Analysis

Unholy Trinity Brings Fire to Netanyahu's Door

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's media obsession, recklessness and misplaced self-confidence clung to the newly arrested suspects in Case 4000 as well

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the Muni World conference in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2018.
\ Moti Milrod

Bezeq's controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber, and media consultant Nir Hefetz have spent the past two freezing February nights in the damp, stinking and unheated cells of a police lock-up. Detectives from the Lahav 433 investigation unit are convinced that this unholy trinity was involved in bribery worth millions that dwarf what was allegedly going on in Case 1000, the lavish gifts affairs, and Case 2000, the Yedioth Ahronoth quid-pro-quo affair. The police have lots of evidence including various kinds of correspondence and perhaps even secret recordings that are bringing the fire closer to the door of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Still, they will try to persuade one or two of the three suspects to cross the line and turn state’s evidence. The traumatic experience of detention is aimed at speeding up the process. The police know how to be cruel: They’ve also arrested Elovitch’s wife and son. Elovitch himself is suspected of receiving hundreds of millions of shekels in benefits from then-Communications Minister Netanyahu in exchange for turning the Walla news website into the online version of Israel Hayom – a proven Netanyahu organ.

Elovitch, Netanyahu’s close friend; Filber, a political ally for 20 years and an executor of Netanyahu’s decisions; and Hefetz, whose hands were all over everything as an adviser, a “fixer,” the de facto editor of Walla and Netanyahu’s candidate to be the link between himself and Yedioth owner Arnon Mozes, as revealed in the tapes from Case 2000 – each of these people separately and all of them together hold pieces of the puzzle.

Netanyahu’s sick obsession with “the media” – his uncontrollable urge to subordinate it to his agenda, to educate it and shape it in his image and the image of his wife in her ongoing search for respect – drove him crazy. The feeling of “There’s no one like me” intensified after the 2015 elections. He ignored the rules of caution, fired this one, appointed that one, did well for this one and ran over the other, as if he were running amok. This complacency, recklessness and misplaced self-confidence clung to the other suspects as well.

Clockwise from top left: Shaul Elovitch, Nir Hefetz, Stella Handler, and  Shlomo Filber.
Moti Milrod

All the exploits involving the Walla site, which was suppressed at the owner’s orders, were conducted in an above-board fashion, via WhatsApp messages and in emails. “They acted very stupidly,” someone involved in what’s going on said Monday. The detectives’ work was thus pretty easy; they just collected material that was readily available.

For weeks the political establishment was waiting for the police recommendations in Cases 1000 and 2000. They were a long time coming, and when the allegations finally landed, it couldn’t have been worse: bribery times two, fraud and breach of trust. The politicians heard it, they mumbled something to themselves and agreed to wait until the attorney general decided whether to prosecute the prime minister.

Just when we thought that it would now be smooth sailing until the end of 2018, a new case has emerged that seems even worse. The elements of bribery are all there, the gift, the quid pro quo, the interests. All the players have been arrested except for the prime minister who, if he were a civilian, would also be making the acquaintance of the wooden benches of the detention hall.

Ostensibly nothing has changed on the political map, but the basic conditions are not the same. Netanyahu understands that his situation has deteriorated considerably. He will internalize it further as the Case 4000 investigation progresses, and if one or two of the main suspects agrees to sign an agreement and “sing.”

There’s no way to know how he will act; any speculation is valid. As an act of despair he could call new elections as a way to advance the filing of charges. His opportunity to offer the attorney general a deal – to close the cases and hand down a mild punishment in return for his resignation and abandoning political life – has been squandered. He also missed his chance to advance elections before the cloud hovering above him darkened and turned into a cloudburst.

Anything Bibi does now will look like a transparent effort to escape the wrath of the law. In any event, his chances of winning an election decreased this week. And even if he should win, who would rush to join a prime minister on borrowed time, other than the ultra-Orthodox politicians and Avigdor Lieberman, whose ethical threshold is somewhere near the level of groundwater?

Let’s take, for example, Moshe Kahlon, finance minister and chairman of Kulanu. If he discovers, through in-depth polling and focus groups, that most of his voters oppose his continued partnership with Netanyahu and want him to leave the government – he might just fulfill their wishes. That would be a move that would bring him Likud voters who are fed up with their corrupt leader, as well as voters who are now leaning toward Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid. The drop in housing prices in the last quarter of 2017 could make it easier for Kahlon to take this step, although it’s not without risk.

The defensive party wall around Netanyahu has also cracked during the past two days. His party's MKs haven’t been storming the broadcast studios. The exception has been MK Miki Zohar. In an interview to a local radio station, Zohar compared the police investigations and media coverage of Netanyahu’s cases to those surrounding the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Suddenly we missed David Amsalem’s “snitch” and “tattler.”

Instead of Zohar burying himself in shame, retracting and apologizing, he conducted a round of follow-up interviews in which he elaborated on his insight with inscrutability, insensitivity and ignorance. Zohar is one of those MKs – most of whom belong to Likud, though there are some in Habayit Hayehudi – who give stupidity a bad name. One cannot deny the possibility that this ridiculous comparison was planted in his mind by someone in the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street. The panic there must be reaching new heights.

For some reason there were repeated calls Monday for Netanyahu to declare himself temporarily incapacitated. It must be made clear that legally, a state of incapacity is not relevant to this situation. According to the Basic Law on the Government (Section 20), incapacity can last for only 100 days. After that, the government must appoint a new prime minister from his party.

What will happen during the 100 days that Netanyahu sits at home? Will the investigations be completed? Will his trial begin and end? Will the appeals be heard? Such a call reeks of shallowness and charlatanism. It’s no surprise that Yair Lapid issued that demand with total seriousness from the Knesset podium.