Can the Submarine Scandal Still Sink Netanyahu’s Promising Electoral Prospects?

With six days to go, Netanyahu is trying to distance himself from new revelations and accusations that could sway undecided voters against him

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Netanyahu walks on the Rahav submarine in the Haifa port January 12, 2016
Netanyahu walks on the Rahav submarine in the Haifa port January 12, 2016Credit: \ BAZ RATNER / REUTERS

It might be worthwhile, even at this late juncture, six days before the election, to distill the so-called “Submarine Affair” to its core. Forget Benjamin Netanyahu’s insatiable lust for expensive gifts and willingness to grant favors in return or the extraordinary prices he was willing to pay for his ludicrous obsession with the media. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit intends to indict Netanyahu for bribery and breach of trust because of his transgressions, although, in fairness, his alleged misdeeds would be considered mere chickenfeed in Trumpistan America.

The submarine affair, on the other hand, could leave even Donald Trump awestruck. At its worst – which is what his opponents hope the public believes – Netanyahu decided on billion dollar defense procurements against the advice and/or behind the backs of Israel’s entire national security apparatus, as part of a massive kickback scam run by his closest confidantes, from which he himself made a mint.

At its worst, the submarine scandal is, in baseball terms, The Show, the major leagues, a scam on a scale of Berlusconi or Brazil. And because it involves the holiest of holies – Israel’s national security - the submarine snafu is a shock to the Israeli system no less than Watergate was or Trump-Russia collusion might have been, had it been proven.

>> Read more: Netanyahu in deep water: Everything you need to know about the submarines scandal ■ Under a decade of Netanyahu rule the Israeli economy has gone backwards

Mendelblit’s decision to declare Netanyahu innocent as before the police investigation of the submarine caper was curious from the outset, and even more so when he decided to indict Netanyahu’s closest circle for their role in it. According to rumor alone, Mendelblit was deterred by a German threat to cancel the outstanding submarine deals if Netanyahu is implicated, though he might have been deterred by the simple enormity of the dirty deal. According to this logic, Mendelblit invested in the pettier allegations against Netanyahu, in the hopes that by doing so he would relieve pressures to pursue the submarine caper as well.

That suited Netanyahu just fine. His three imminent indictments on corruption charges in so-called Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, damning as they may be, are easily sold to supporters as a leftist witch trial for behavior that would be condoned in anyone other than Netanyahu. The submarine scandal, on the other hand, had to be kept dead and buried, because getting rich off of unneeded purchases of billion dollar submarines is crossing a red line even for most, though hardly all, Netanyahu fans.

Things might have gone Netanyahu’s way were it not for the emergence of new facts – and a new focal point. The new facts stemmed from a previously unknown financial report filed by Netanyahu himself, which revealed for the first time that Netanyahu had made millions from stocks in a company owned by his cousin, which had at least tangential ties with submarine manufacturer ThyssenKrupp. And the new focus was not on the alleged kickbacks from superfluous submarines – but on Netanyahu’s supposedly unconnected consent, which he kept secret from the army and Defense Ministry, to the sale of submarines to Egypt.

Netanyahu had gotten by with evasive denials about his role in the Egyptian deal, but in a rare and agitated television interview 10 days ago he decided to own it. To justify himself, Netanyahu alluded to a secret so sensitive that it could not be shared even with those entrusted with safeguarding Israeli defense and deterrence.

On Tuesday night, Netanyahu’s media nemesis Raviv Drucker unveiled documented proof that approval of the Egyptian deal had been an integral part of the submarine scam from the very outset.  On Wednesday night, a group of former top generals, led by Ehud Barak, were set to demand an investigation into what would, at its worst, be ranked as Israel’s biggest political corruption controversy ever.

The polls indicate that Netanyahu has so far weathered the storm of scandal surrounding him and he may survive the new revelations as well.  If he suffers an unexpected defeat, however, one major factor will be a nagging suspicion that Netanyahu is an unindicted co-conspirator in Israel’s crime of the century. His base may cling to its disbelief, but undecided voters who make or break Israeli elections will be grappling with the gravity of the submarine affair – at its worst – even as they enter the polling booths.

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