Netanyahu Knew His Lawyer Hired Firm to Dig Dirt on Gantz and Fellow Lawmaker

This follows allegations that Likud threatened a member of Gantz’s party that it would leak embarrassing information unless she defected to Likud

Gur Megiddo
Gur Megiddo
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Omer Yankelevich
Omer YankelevichCredit: Tomer Applebaum
Gur Megiddo
Gur Megiddo

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was aware that the business intelligence firm CGI Group had been hired to spy on Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, according to a document obtained by TheMarker, Haaretz’s business daily.

According to the document, Netanyahu’s lawyer Yossi Cohen promised the prime minister that the company would try to gather material on alleged ties between Gantz and a Knesset member from his Kahol Lavan party, Omer Yankelevich.

The document provides the first evidence that Netanyahu was personally involved in the effort.

On Tuesday, after partial results of Monday’s Knesset election were released, Likud MK Miki Zohar said his party had launched contacts with legislators considered potential defectors to the prime minister’s Likud party. Some sources said Yankelevich was one of the possible renegades who would make a new Netanyahu-led government possible.

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Also, Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson reported that Likud had threatened Yankelevich with the release of embarrassing details about her personal life if she did not defect to Likud. Initially she declined to comment on whether she might cross over, but on Tuesday, a few hours after Levinson’s article was published, she denied that she had ever been approached by Likud.

According to the Haaretz report, the information used in the alleged extortion attempt against Yankelevich can be heard in a recording of former Kahol Lavan strategic adviser Israel Bachar, not in the material collected by CGI. Bachar had been taped by his rabbi, Guy Havura, and some of the remarks were reported by Channel 12 TV’s Amit Segal just before Monday’s general election.

According to Ilana Dayan of Channel 12, a separate recording purportedly shows that Netanyahu was involved in the obtaining of the recording of Bachar speaking to Havura.

Despite promises to Netanyahu by his lawyer, Cohen, it is not known whether CGI produced any materials on Yankelevich. But the new information shows that Netanyahu personally knew about the efforts to gather materials on a legislator now coming under pressure from Likud.

Front company?

As reported last week by TheMarker, it was Cohen who approached CGI in recent weeks to spy on Kahol Lavan in order to obtain embarrassing information on Gantz. Last month, CGI signed a contract committing to obtain the business agreement between Kahol Lavan and the company Tzur Communications owned by Gantz’s campaign adviser, Ronen Tzur.

Cohen assumed that the agreement with Tzur included a commitment to hire the services of a third person and sought to use the deal to support a claim that the payments to the third person were intended to buy his silence. As far as is known, CGI’s investigation did not confirm the claim.

Still, CGI was paid hundreds of thousands of shekels, with payments being made through a firm described by Cohen as “Likud’s computing company.” The company Armor Cyber, BI & Consulting was founded in January 2019 in the run-up to the March general election. Businessman Rafael (Vladislav) Waizman of Petah Tikva is Armor’s controlling shareholder; he also owns a company that sells printers and ink.

According to its website, the company is based in the Neveh Ne’eman industrial zone in Hod Hasharon northeast of Tel Aviv. However, a visit to the site revealed that the company does not occupy offices in the building. TheMarker eventually discovered the location of the firm's offices: Waizman’s apartment in Petah Tikva – which may reflect the extent of the company’s operations.

Armor did not take part in the negotiations between Cohen and CGI; its only role was to provide a framework for making the payments. The Party Financing Law requires political parties to pay their own campaign costs. The fact that Armor BI paid to spy on Gantz could appear to be a violation of the law.

Switching sides

CGI is the same company that Kahol Lavan hired in September 2019, just before the Knesset election that month, to investigate whether the cellphones of senior Kahol Lavan officials including Gantz had been hacked. The investigation was carried out after recordings of discussions among Kahol Lavan members were leaked and broadcast by Channel 13. Party leaders feared that the leak stemmed from hacking that permitted eavesdropping on their phones.

CGI charged Kahol Lavan hundreds of thousands of shekels and submitted a report concluding that the phones of Gantz and other senior party officials had indeed been hacked. After the report found its way to the media, party leaders said CGI had been negligent because the phones were never examined in a lab. CGI responded that it was unnecessary to have the actual phones; they could be examined remotely.

After ties between Kahol Lavan and CGI were severed, Cohen contacted Zvi Naveh, one of CGI’s owners, with whom he was on friendly terms. Cohen proposed that Naveh cross over to Likud for the election campaign that ended this week.

CGI proceeded to take up the job. Naveh is known as someone who has been in business intelligence for years.

Cohen, Naveh, Netanyahu, Likud, Gantz and Yankelevich all declined to comment for this article.

Jacob Perry, the former head of the Shin Bet security service, is CGI Group’s president. Perry was once a legislator for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which is now part of Kahol Lavan. In 2018, Lapid forced Perry to retire from politics after Channel 12’s “Uvda” program reported that Perry had included false information on his résumé about his military service.

Allegations that  Iran hacked into Gantz’s cellphone and that the Iranians had intimate information on the Kahol Lavan leader have never been confirmed, but there is evidence that on two separate occasions the person who tried to obtain information on Gantz was Netanyahu himself.

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