JERUSALEM: It was Sunday, May 30, and Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on television looking flushed, grasping for words and losing his temper.
The Israeli premier’s ex-protege, Naftali Bennett, had just announced he would join the “change” coalition aimed at felling Netanyahu after 12 straight years in power.
In less than half an hour, the political strongman dubbed “King Bibi” by his Likud party supporters would see his kingdom start to crumble.
The change was swift, said Ben Caspit, a political commentator who wrote the biography “The Netanyahu Years”.
“For decades, he’s nurtured his image with a lot of class. He’s really an Ivy League politician, with the language, with the manners, with the looks, with the professionalism, with being the magician of television, with all this charisma,” Caspit said.
But now “he’s screaming and shouting, he blames all these rivals — absolutely lunatic accusations”.
Just days before the announcement of the bloc of rivals united against him, Netanyahu was playing his favourite role of wartime leader.
Following a Gaza ceasefire, he was making the rounds, from a phone call with US President Joe Biden to a meeting with his security cabinet.
But from May 30, a new battle began, with Netanyahu suddenly fighting for his political life.
The veteran incumbent worked to turn his challengers against each other.
Netanyahu first tried to lure Bennett back in, proposing a three-way rotating government, to also include Likud defector Gideon Saar.
“No one still believes his promises,” Bennett responded.
And the new coalition swooped in.
On June 2, opposition leader Yair Lapid — a former television presenter who entered politics with the dream of unseating Netanyahu — looked jubilant.
Just 90 minutes before his mandate to cobble a new government expired, he announced a coalition agreement between eight party heads.
Netanyahu went on the warpath, ratcheting up pressure on coalition members to jump ship.
In interviews and in tweets, Netanyahu lambasted his former right-wing allies in a bid to discredit them.
“Leftist government” and “fraud of the century” featured among his angry comments, in attacks that critics said bordered on incitement.
Netanyahu dismissed any such concerns.
Far-right activists and Netanyahu supporters staged protests outside coalition leaders’ homes, branding them “traitors” and prompting increased security.
For the Israeli press, some parallels became obvious.
“In his final days in power, Benjamin Netanyahu has been looking and sounding like Donald Trump did last winter,” said left-wing news outlet Haaretz, drawing comparison to the outgoing American president.
The past two years of political crisis with its four indecisive elections revolved around two slogans: “Only Bibi” and “Anything but Bibi”.
The final days in power of the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history revealed his isolation.
Only a handful of his “Likudniks” spoke to the press, as party leaders began to keep a distance.
“He lost everyone. Most of his advisers, chief of staffs — no one is there; it’s unbelievable,” said Caspit.
Netanyahu’s son Yair had his Instagram and Twitter accounts briefly suspended over incendiary posts. The leader’s wife, Sara, was nowhere to be seen.
Twenty years ago, when her husband was set to lose the party’s leadership to Ariel Sharon, an audio clip from her shocked the country.
“We’re going abroad. The country might burn. This country can’t survive without Bibi,” she said at the time.
In 1999, when Netanyahu’s first term as premier came to a close, the couple dragged their feet leaving the official residence. The move took three months.
In the Knesset on Sunday, Netanyahu vowed to return.
“If it’s our destiny to be in the opposition,” he said in his usual combative tone, “we’ll do so with our heads high.”
“We’ll be back soon.”