Analysis

Secret Tape Scandal Hits Netanyahu Where It Hurts Him the Most

If the revelations about the prime minister's talks with the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth are true, it will be just the latest twist in a crazy story.

Netanyahu at a press conference, November, 2016.
Moti Milrod

In the early 1980s, the editors of Israel’s daily newspapers visited various Israel Prison Service jails around Ramle. One of the participants, a friendly fellow of about 70, was Yedioth Ahronoth editor Noah Mozes.

To the surprise of then-Prison Service Commissioner Mordechai Wertheimer and the other visitors to the minimum security Ma’asiyahu Prison, Mozes happily swooped down on the local dining room, pointed to his favorite bench and reminisced about happy times from the days when he was a prisoner there.

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He had served time after allowing his young son to drive the family car before he was old enough for a license, with the vehicle subsequently being involved in a fatal accident.

That same boy, Arnon Mozes, is one of the two Arnons – along with Arnon Milchan – in the cases of alleged corruption against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is an insane development in an already crazy plot. Mozes Sr. sat in the very same Ma’asiyahu Prison where Netanyahu’s rival and Mozes Jr.’s ally, former-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is now confined. Is it beyond the realms of fiction to think that one or more of the current protagonists will end up there eventually?

It’s too early to say whether there will be plain and simple justice in this story, but there is already poetic justice. There’s no arena that preoccupies Netanyahu more than the media: In his efforts to rewrite the truth about the behavior of his brother Yoni in the Sayeret Matkal elite special-operations force; in his ride eastward to the political sunrise on the back of U.S. television during his years as a UN ambassador; in his obsessive preoccupation with any mention of him on the air and in print; to his clutching the reins of Facebook and Twitter.

If one of the scandals revolves around the war of mass-circulation newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth with the freebie, pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom – and if after being a general in the campaign he becomes a victim due to illicit contact with the enemy’s general – there is no stronger punch line with which to end the script.

The story is multilayered, of course. After all, Netanyahu claimed that U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson and Amos Regev – the publisher and editor-in-chief, respectively, of Israel Hayom – are his personal friends.

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Do you call that a friend? Netanyahu’s seemingly willing to sell them for a lentil stew (a la Esau and Jacob) or, alternatively, to convince them to sell newspapers for two to three lentils, in a deal that will be hidden from the cameras? And if he talks to friends about business, how does that work with his defense in the other affair?

Most intriguing is what Sara Netanyahu knew. When Netanyahu wanted once more to ascend the political pole he had previously slid down, he hid from her the fact he was meeting with media people she hated, fearing her angry response. Her attitude toward Yedioth Ahronoth editor Arnon Mozes is clear, and doesn’t sound like something that could be softened for considerations of tactical necessity.

For example, here is Sara Netanyahu in conversation – in the presence of her entourage – with Carmel fire disaster widow (and eventual Likud MK) Nava Boker, some six years ago: “What he [Netanyahu] is doing is totally different from what Yedioth Ahronoth publishes. You have to understand that. They have their own agenda. Somehow, they have to create the reality, because they have it in for him – him and for me – for reasons that are not even political, but really [about] money [and] power. It’s them, Israel Hayom – and we’re in the middle. They do what they want. There’s nothing to be done; there are orders from above. There’s a boss, his name is ‘Noni’ Mozes, so they don’t want to stress or to emphasize [Benjamin Netanyahu’s] part.”

In Sara’s eyes, there was another partner to the conspiracy, a man who was at the time a columnist at Yedioth Ahronoth: Yair Lapid, who is now head of the Yesh Atid party. “Because Lapid is running for politics, he wants to bring down Netanyahu,” she told Boker in 2010. “In other words, everything is so transparent.”

Lapid’s change in attitude toward Netanyahu saddened Boker. “They were actually friends, weren’t they?” she asked Sara Netanyahu. “Yair Lapid, he wrote about [Bibi] in a positive manner.”

Sara Netanyahu: “It’s all interests. Now he suddenly wants to run for politics. Conspiracies.”

That was at the end of 2010. In the spring of 2015, in her embarrassing testimony in Jerusalem Labor Court, Sara attributed power and cunning to Mozes. She claimed that Meni Naftali [the former chief caretaker of the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence, who was awarded 170,000 shekels in damages after winning a civil case over violation of his employee rights] wanted to bring down Netanyahu with the help of “a very strong media source, who stood behind him.” Mozes, she added – without specifically naming him – has wanted “to destroy my husband for the past 18 years.”

So it turns out that the would-be terminator and victim tried to end their conflict on the back of the newspaper that supports every utterance of Netanyahu’s. After all, it’s all interests, as Sara said, and her husband tends to parrot the same thing.

It would be fascinating to know whether Netanyahu smoked – and offered Mozes – one of Milchan’s cigars during their conversation (and those cigars should be checked to see whether they cleared customs correctly).

To appropriate the Hebrew meaning of the two rival newspapers’ names, the good news is that this is not the “final news” on the affair. The bad news is that this is “Israel today.”