A former aide may spill the beans on the prime minister

IT SEEMED that things could not get worse for Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, when on February 13th police recommended that he be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two corruption investigations. One involved accusations of gifts for favours; the other alleged back-room dealing with an Israeli newspaper publisher for favourable coverage.

Five days later, however, police brought in eight suspects for questioning in another corruption probe. One of them, Shlomo Filber, had served as Mr Netanyahu’s chief of staff and campaign manager. Another is Shaul Elovitch, a friend of the prime minister and chairman of Bezeq, an Israeli telecoms giant.

The police suspect that Mr Netanyahu, who served as communications minister from 2014 to 2017, made regulatory decisions that favoured Bezeq and enriched Mr Elovitch in return for glowing news coverage by his popular website, Walla!. On February 21st Mr Filber agreed to serve as a witness for the state. He is expected to testify that his interventions on behalf of Bezeq, while serving as director-general of the communications ministry from 2015 to 2017, were made on orders from Mr Netanyahu.

Police are also investigating claims that one of Mr Netanyahu’s spin-doctors had offered a retired judge the post of attorney-general on the understanding that she would then shut down an investigation into the alleged misuse of public funds by Mr Netanyahu’s wife. Other corruption investigations, including one looking into the awarding of contracts for new submarines and warships, are still swirling around the prime minister.

Mr Netanyahu, who will be questioned under caution in the coming days, remains bullish. Last week he called the police recommendations “biased, extreme, full of holes, like Swiss cheese”. He described the more recent allegations as “bizarre, fraudulent claims, brought up as part of the campaign against myself and my family that has been ongoing for years.” He still plans to visit Washington, DC, on March 5th for a meeting with President Donald Trump. He also intends to oversee Israel’s celebration in two months of the 70th anniversary of its independence.

Some of Mr Netanyahu’s colleagues in the Likud party, which he leads, seem shell-shocked by the recent developments. The chorus of ministers that so often defend him in the media has gone quiet. Still, recent polls show right-wing voters, while not necessarily convinced of Mr Netanyahu’s innocence, rallying around Likud. Its coalition partners, which could bring down the government, do not want to anger this constituency. Most say they will wait for the attorney-general to decide whether to indict Mr Netanyahu. The process could take months.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he has no intention of resigning of his own volition and that he will “write [his] memoirs many years from now”. But his colleagues and coalition partners may eventually decide that it is not in Israel’s interests to be led by a man with so many clouds looming over him.

Source: The Economist
News Reporter

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