Minutes before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered the Jerusalem District Court for the opening session of his trial Sunday, the Shin Bet security service informed the court’s security guards that it was changing the security arrangements previously agreed on.
The route inside the building that the prime minister took ended with him using his own podium to make his speech and have photographs taken in an area that violated court rules.
The preparations for Netanyahu’s security were set during a tour of the court last week by members of the Shin Bet’s bodyguard unit and the court’s security guards. Under the agreement, Netanyahu was to go up the stairs to the court’s main entrance and proceed to a third-floor waiting room next to the courtroom. On the way, he would pass media crews stationed on the first through third floors.
But when he actually arrived, according to a source in Netanyahu’s entourage, the bodyguards announced that he would go up a side staircase. They also didn’t bring him to the waiting room, but instead took over half the third-floor hallway and brought him into another courtroom without permission.
The bodyguards even prevented the court’s security guards from entering the third-floor area that had been secured. Only Netanyahu’s people were allowed in.
According to the security source who works with Netanyahu, after the Shin Bet determines and publicizes the prime minister’s route, it typically changes it at the last minute to prevent assassination attempts. The Shin Bet didn’t inform the court’s security guards because of the necessity of keeping the maneuver secret.
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The altered arrangements were actually planned on the very day of the joint tour with the court’s guards, even though the latter believed they were genuinely coordinating Netanyahu’s route. The guards were kept in the dark even though no one was allowed into the building unless they had undergone a stringent security check by the Shin Bet and received prior permission.
After Netanyahu entered the secured area, the Shin Bet let ministers and Knesset members from his Likud party enter the courtroom where he was waiting. That is where the picture of them all together was taken. This violated standing court rules, which bar photographs inside a courtroom without advance permission.
The court guards also didn’t know that Netanyahu planned to give a speech before the trial started. Because the bodyguards had barred them from entering the half of the hallway leading to his third-floor courtroom, they discovered it only after he started speaking.
In his speech, Netanyahu attacked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and the law enforcement system in general. He charged that the investigation against him was “tainted,” the cases were “fabricated” and the “ludicrous” indictment was submitted solely to remove the right wing from power.
The Courts Administration had stationed a podium next to the courtroom where the trial took place in case any of the defendants or lawyers wanted to make a statement to the press. It did the same for other cases of great media interest, like that of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
But Netanyahu’s staff brought their own podium and placed it on the secured side of the hallway. The producer responsible for shooting video on that floor for all the media was then let in by the Shin Bet to wire the podium so the speech could be filmed.