Operation ‘Save Netanyahu’

The?ring of criminal investigations is closing in on Israeli?Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leaving him very little room to maneuver. At this stage, most other people would throw up their hands and find a quick exit, if only to stay out of prison. Netanyahu continues navigating this stormy sea and planning his rescue strategy?or,?at least, planning some significant delay of the inevitable. As of now, Netanyahu’s strategy consists of three parallel components: questioning the legitimacy of the gatekeepers, particularly the police, the attorney general’s office?and the media; tightening coordination with the US administration?and creating the impression that when it comes to Israel’s relationship with US President Donald Trump, there is no alternative to Netanyahu; and holding a snap election to increase his strength?or, at the very least, signal to the attorney general what the people really want.

Let’s start with the election.?Netanyahu does not want to be seen as someone who is dragging Israel into a new round of elections just to save his skin, when he has a year and eight months until the end of his term in November 2019. This is why the serious coalition crisis that erupted this weekend?was not only timely?—?it was exactly what he needed. The crisis revolves around a spat between Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and the ultra-Orthodox Yahadut HaTorah party, led by Yaakov Litzman, over the enlistment law that is designed to exempt ultra-Orthodox youth from conscription. While the spat?is making all the other members of the coalition nervous, Netanyahu has been?able to maintain an unusually calm demeanor. According to a political source talking on condition of anonymity, Netanyahu has even informed his coalition partners that?“if things don’t work out over the next few days, we will be forced to take it to the voters.”

On March 4, however, HaBayit HeYehudi seniors Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked both announced that this was a “fake crisis.” They claimed that Netanyahu could resolve the crisis with a few phone calls, but that he isn’t interested in doing that. “The right will not get a better government, even after the elections,” Shaked warned.

This made it hard for Netanyahu on March 5 to stick to his plan to?“go with and feel without,” namely, to keep a stable coalition while preparing for early elections. The criminal investigations closing in on him actually boosted his standing in the polls, while June seems like the perfect time for an election, since it will precede Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s anticipated decision to indict Netanyahu (or not). All of this would seem to be encouraging Netanyahu to let the country get dragged into an election. He will have to make his decision by the end of the week. But Israeli elections are always a dangerous enigma. The candidates may know how they go in, but they have no idea how they will come out, if at all.

At the same time, anonymous sources continue to deliver harsh blows to Israel’s gatekeepers and law enforcement, all in an effort to challenge their legitimacy. With the backing of several Likud Knesset members, along with Culture Minister Miri Regev, Netanyahu is trying to create the impression that these are largely political investigations, conducted under pressure from the media and the left. Despite the fact that the Israel Police chief and the public prosecutor?are both Netanyahu appointees and considered close to the prime minister, many Israelis are convinced that the system is persecuting Netanyahu. After weeks in which the Israel Police in general?and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh in particular?have come under methodical attack, it is now?Mandelblit’s turn. This began with a well-planned series of rumors on WhatsApp and continued with anonymous reports appearing on websites close to the prime minister.

According to these reports, Mandelblit could easily be pressured, or even?extorted, over recordings in?police possession. These 2010 Harpaz affair recordings could allegedly incriminate Mandelblit. Based on this information (which is apparently completely baseless), Mandelblit is worried about his personal affairs being made public. This refers to the period when he served as chief military advocate general, with the rank of major general. In other words, the motivations for his current actions have nothing to do with the case....

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