Analysis

The Final Days of Benjamin Netanyahu's Rule

The police commissioner isn't afraid of the prime minister and now his man at the Ministry of Communications has crossed the line to turn against him

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ronen Zvulun/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership has been dealt a harsh blow, apparently a mortal one. The power of the prime minister doesn’t stem only from the outcome of an election, from a coalition majority or powers granted by law, but from the respect of the apparatus of government, of aides, spokespersons and confidants. The moment this circle is broken, the leader’s authority is lost - even if he remains in his seat for some time until his final ouster.

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Tuesday began with the appearance of Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich before the Knesset Interior Committee. Likud representatives invited him for a dressing down in front of the cameras in response to the recommendation (excuse me, summaries of the investigation, as Alsheich made clear) to indict Netanyahu on bribery charges in the lavish-gifts case and the Yedioth Ahronoth quid-pro-quo affair. The pretext was the commissioner’s remarks in an interview on investigative TV show “Fact.”

Alsheich was not afraid and didn’t bat an eye. On the contrary, he scolded the MKs who had not seen the full interview, and compared the prime minister and those in his orbit to a crime organization. That’s the way a man acts when he isn’t afraid of the prime minister and his shouters in the Knesset, when he understands that there’s nothing more Netanyahu can do to him except issue another whiney response about a “campaign of persecution by the media against my family.”

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While Alsheich was speaking live from the Knesset, the story broke about an alleged proposal by Netanyahu’s former media adviser Nir Hefetz to Judge Hila Gerstl, to make her to the first female attorney general in exchange for closing the thefts case, the investigation into alleged improprieties involving household expenses. In the evening, a state’s evidence agreement was signed with Netanyahu’s man in the Communications Ministry, director general Shlomo Filber, who is to testify against the boss.

That’s the way the “final days” look, as the title of the book by American journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on the collapse of President Richard Nixon’s presidency over the Watergate scandal reads. After the embarrassing tapes of Yair and of Sara Netanyahu, more stories will certainly emerge about conduct in the royal court on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. Testimonies that so far have only been whispered off the record, about interviews that the prime minister’s wife conducted with candidates for senior positions, will be told for all to hear. Folks will suddenly remember all kinds of interference by people around Netanyahu in decisions that were intended to serve the boss and his family. After all, it’s hard to believe that the indecent proposal to Judge Gerstl was a one-time thing.

The Gerstl affair reveals this dynamic well. When she was approached with the proposal of an appointment in exchange for closing a case, fear of the prime minister and his wife was so great that the judge didn’t dare file a police complaint and made do with informing associates, who also kept mum about it - first and foremost, the current Supreme Court President Esther Hayut. How sad: Senior law enforcement and justice officials are afraid for their own skin (or their career advancement) if they reveal corruption at the top. And then comes the moment when the fear dissipates. Alsheich and his people seem stronger than the sitting prime minister, and the burden can be unloaded and the terrible secret they have kept in their hearts can be revealed.

Who will be the next Gerstl? Who will expose the next piece of the puzzle? We can begin to imagine the scenario for a series about Netanyahu, with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in the role of Hamlet, his soul torn, and Commissioner Alsheich as the hero who has undergone a deep change over the course of the plot, and two versions of the figures of Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu. In one version, let’s say, the Keshet TV franchisee’s, Bibi is the villain and Sara is the victim, and in the competing one, of the franchisee Reshet, they change places: Sara is Lady Macbeth who pulls the strings and he is her obedient servant, who follows her to his downfall. It would be interesting which version would get the higher ratings.

But this is for the future. Netanyahu is still here, with all his powers to lead the country in matters of war and peace, and will not quickly leave the stage. Those who would lay claim to his seat are still keeping silent, afraid that the “base” of the right-wing voters won’t forgive them if they raise the banner of revolt too soon, and they’re unenthusiastically holding Netanyahu’s tottering chair. When they come out against him publicly, the real countdown will begin.