WHEN it comes to Project Fear, nobody does it better. Voters in the UK have by now become more than acquainted with the term, but to find the true master of such political scaremongering you have to look further afield and to one man in particular – Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Had there been a Nobel Prize for spreading fear, he would have been one of the leading contenders,” wrote Israeli author and columnist Akiva Eldar last week, as Netanyahu readied himself for this coming Tuesday’s snap General Election battle.

For Israelis it will be the second such vote in less than six months, one that could see Netanyahu win a record fifth term as prime minister, or end his decade-long dominance of Israeli politics.

Already he has broken the incumbency record of Israel’s legendary first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, but some observers now insist that the writing is finally on the wall for Netanyahu, or “Bibi”, as he is ubiquitously known.

Not of course that the man some have dubbed the “magician” is ready to give up his political conjuring act easily. If nothing else, Netanyahu, a former Israeli commando, is not someone who throws in the towel or takes political prisoners along the way.

To say that his current election campaign has been bitter would be a gross understatement. A measure of just how nasty it has been came on Thursday night when Facebook penalised Netanyahu’s election campaign team over hate speech in a post that warned Arab voters were seeking to “destroy” every Israeli man, woman and child.

While Facebook was busy sanctioning his campaign, Netanyahu simply blamed it on a “staffer”, but the damage had already been done and few doubted it was yet another leaf out of the Prime Minister’s dirty tricks book of election campaigning for which he has often been criticised.

Indeed this latest outpouring of online vitriol came hard on the heels of earlier campaign messages when Netanyahu repeatedly warned without evidence that Arab-Israeli voters plan to commit large-scale fraud in the September 17 polls.

It’s not the first time that Netanyahu has resorted to such tactics. In 2015, he rallied right-wing voters with a similar message, warning that Arabs were heading to the poll in “droves”, and this time round has made the unlikely possibility of Arab-Israeli politicians joining a possible coalition a central issue in rallying turnout.

Nasty and unsubstantiated as all this is, especially the current claims of electoral fraud, it’s also somewhat ironic given that Israeli police last year recommended that Netanyahu himself should face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases.

While the Prime Minister has denied wrongdoing and labelled the charges against him a media-orchestrated witch-hunt, the allegations continue to dog Netanyahu, who used to be known as the “Teflon PM”, the man against whom bad stuff would just not stick in terms of domestic politics.

Which brings us to the question of just what the political future might now hold for Netanyahu given Tuesday’s crucial election.

Already there have been suggestions that an air of desperation surrounds his efforts to stay in office.

This is characterised, detractors say, by both Netanyahu’s vow to annex large swathes of occupied Palestinian territories if he is elected and his increasing willingness to reach out to Israel’s far-right for support.

Outwith the ranks of those among the Israeli right who enthusiastically endorse Netanyahu’s pledge on West Bank annexation, his stated move has been roundly condemned.

Already the UN, the Arab League, the European Union and Russia have all criticised the plan.

“Such a prospect would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace, and the very essence of a two-state solution,” insisted Stephane Dujarric, a UN spokesperson.

He added that any Israeli move to impose its administration over the Palestinian territory would be illegal under international law.

Palestinians in the West Bank already suffering the suffocating squeeze of Israeli restrictions were more pointed in what it means for them and how they saw it as part of Netanyahu’s game plan.

“This has gone far beyond lip-service and vows, it’s now just contingent upon finding the right place and the right time for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank,” Ghassan Zaqtan, a renowned Palestinian writer and poet based in Ramallah, told Time magazine.

“Netanyahu will not hesitate to do anything and that includes annexing West Bank settlements to stay prime minister,” Zaqtan warned.

Netanyahu’s headlong charge for the right-wing vote has also drawn fierce criticism from many quarters.

Last Thursday the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz ran a story outlining how one “racist party” could save Netanyahu’s political career in Tuesday’s election.

It detailed how polls suggest Otzma Yehudit (Hebrew for “Jewish Power”), “led by a handful of former followers of the deeply racist late Rabbi Meir Kahane, is tipped to win four seats in the election, which could potentially make or break Netanyahu’s success in forming a right-wing bloc.

“If the polls prove accurate, that decision looks like bearing fruit on Tuesday and Kahanists will once more be in the corridors of power, much to the horror of many liberal Jews,” warned Haaretz.

In an earlier election in April, Netanyahu drew similar widespread condemnation among US Jewish organisations after encouraging other right-wing parties to merge with Otzma Yehudit on a joint slate, ultimately called the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

Many observers however point to the fact that as Netanyahu’s campaigning gets more strident in its siren calls to the far-right vote, he runs the risk of being in a league of his own in the world.

While the Israeli PM doggedly tries to create alliances in his favour, there are also indicators of collective moves against him.

“Over the summer, unprecedented alliances across the political spectrum have made Netanyahu seem more vulnerable than he has since the first time he lost office, in 1999,” wrote political economist Bernard Avishai last week in the New Yorker.

“Should he lose, Israelis concerned about the fate of their democracy will sense an immediate relief.

“They are tired, most immediately, of his attacks on the judiciary and the police, his attempts to suborn the media, his willingness to tolerate soldiers violating Israel Defence Forces norms in occupation raids, his racist incitement against minorities and his populist incitement against elites,” noted Avishai, who is also author of The Hebrew Republic.

SUCH is the palpable level of disgust with Netanyahu in some quarters that it has crossed party political lines and convinced even some of his own Likud party heavyweights to not vote for him on Tuesday.

“Democracy is under harsh attack and must be defended, the sooner the better,” insisted former Knesset speaker Dan Tichon, a Likud veteran, who confirmed that he would not vote Likud in the upcoming election, and he is not alone.

“It seems Likud leadership is doing everything to ensure I will not vote for them,” former minister and Likud member of the Knesset Benny Begin told Al-Jazeera last week. Referring to a draft legislation backed by Netanyahu to place cameras at polling stations, he added: “There’s a price and there should be a price for such arrogant, crude and blunt behaviour.”

But still the question remains as to whether Netanyahu will pay that ultimate price, or will the “magician” once again conjure up another near-miraculous act of political survival?

To outsiders, understanding the mechanics of Israeli elections is not easy, and while politics in the country are famously tumultuous, the current situation is all but unprecedented.

To begin with, this is the first time the country has had two elections in such a short period of time.

Tuesday’s vote comes barely five months after the last one ended with no clear winner and Netanyahu unable to form a governing coalition.

Israel’s election is pretty much a free-for-all, and instead of two or three major parties, there are 31 parties competing at the ballot box.

Israelis vote for parties, not individual candidates (the candidates are chosen by the parties, some through primaries). The more votes a party gets, the more seats it has in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

A government in turn is formed from a coalition of (mostly) like-minded parties that captures a majority of more than 60 seats.

In the election in April, Likud and the opposition Blue and White came out on top, tied at 35 seats each. No one party has ever won an outright majority of the 120-seat Knesset in 71 years of nationhood. This makes post-election coalitions the key to victory, and negotiations can stretch on for weeks.

The National:

In the last polls before Tuesday’s election day, neither Netanyahu’s Likud party or the opposition Blue and White alliance, run by his former army chief Benny Gantz (pictured above), appeared to have a clear route to the premiership.

Both would have to make deals with smaller parties to form a government, meaning the result of the vote could kick off weeks of political negotiations before it is clear who will be Israel’s next leader.

All of which makes Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hawkish former defence minister, something of a potential kingmaker.

Polls suggest the ultra-nationalist settler will double his seats from five to around 10.

Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beitenu party, has said he would only join a unity government comprised of Likud and Blue and White. Running under his campaign slogan “Make Israel Normal Again”, all eyes are on Lieberman’s next move.

What is so game-changing about Lieberman’s role in this election is that he is attracting voters from both the right and the centre-left, according to Gayil Talshir, a political science professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

“Once Lieberman changed the agenda from security to religion-state issues, many voters crossed the right-left divide in both directions,” she told NBC News recently.

But Lieberman is something of a wild card and has made unpredictable moves in the past, meaning nothing is certain.

In Israel, the final 10 days of an election campaign are referred to as the “Money Time”, and rarely has that been more the case than now.

As Newsweek columnist Marc Schulman wryly pointed out, these past few days, Netanyahu’s campaign game plan has always operated on two parallel tracks of going high and going low.

Taking the high road, Netanyahu presents his prowess as a great world leader, hence his meetings with Boris Johnson and Vladimir Putin last week.

Then there is the going low with Netanyahu generally holding off on this until the last days of the election and which usually means implementing his tried and tested version of Project Fear.

To that extent, in what has by now become something of an Israeli ritual, Netanyahu digs deep for ways to scare or thrill his hawkish supporters.

Will the fear-mongering work? Perhaps. As Schulman says, many Israelis continually vote by their fears, rather than their hopes.

“The Prime Minister’s fate and the future of Israel will be determined by whether Tel Aviv liberals and Arab Israelis go to the polls or choose to stay home. Whatever the result, this election will be remembered as the most hateful campaign in Israel’s history, to date,” Schulman concludes, echoing the feelings of many.

Then again “magician” Netanyahu might pull another rabbit from the hat in the shape of an election victory. One thing is certain, it will matter nothing to him whether that victory is a pyrrhic one – so long as he wins.