Former U.S. special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process Martin Indyk, who served as ambassador to Israel in the '90s, has said that Benjamin Netanyahu expressed disappointment around the time of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral in 1995 that the leader had been assassinated, lamenting that the murder would turn Rabin into a national hero.
Indyk made the remarks in a Frontline documentary broadcast on PBS on Tuesday. Netanyahu was opposition leader at the time.
"Netanyahu sat next to me when I was ambassador in Israel at the time of Rabin’s funeral," Indyk says in the film. " I remember Netanyahu saying to me: 'Look, look at this. He’s a hero now, but if he had not been assassinated, I would have beaten him in the elections, and then he would have gone into history as a failed politician.”
Indyk said that he had the impression that "even at that moment of tremendous support, a tragic moment of support for Rabin, Netanyahu was thinking, well, politically he was on the ropes before he was assassinated."
The prime minister's bureau issued a sweeping denial of Indyk's remarks on Wednesday. "Those statements never were and never existed," his bureau commented. The Likud called the comments "another lie by Martin Indyk, who doesn't stop slandering and reviling the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu."
As part of their reaction to Indyk's comments, Netanyahu associates distributed photographs of Netanyahu at the funeral of Prime Minister Rabin on November 6, 1995. Indyk does not appear at all in the photographs, while sitting next to Netanyahu are Moshe Katzav, who was a Likud MK at the time, and Jewish-Austrian businessman Martin Schlaff.
In response to the distribution of the photographs, Indyk posted on his Twitter account that he was not referring on PBS to the funeral. "The conversation w Bibi took place on Nov 5/95 when we sat together at the Knesset ceremony to receive Rabin's coffin to lie in state," he tweeted.
The PMO responded in turn to Indyk's tweet with in a sharper tone, calling him a liar. "After Indyk's first false version was refuted, he invents a second untrue version," the PMO stated. "Prime Minister Netanylahu did not say the things that Indyk attributes to him."
Indyk's comments are reinforced by a telegram sent from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv on the morning after Rabin's assassination, a message that was exposed by Wikileaks a few years back. In the classified telegram that Indyk sent on November 5, 1995 at 10:15 A.M. to the White House and the State Department, he reported on a conversation that had taken place a few hours earlier between the State Department adviser at the embassy and Netanyahu. The Rabin assassination, Netanyahu is quoted as saying, is "a disaster for the Jewish people, a disaster for Israel and a disaster for the right, which will be decimated if elections are called soon."
Indyk had also written that Likud sources who spoke with embassy officials "referred in a panic" to the murder of Haim Arlosoroff in the '30s, "for which the entire revisionist movement was blamed." The sources "feared the left will do the same again with Likud and the right."
Three months after the telegram was sent, then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres announced early elections, which took place in May, six months after Rabin's death. Despite Netanyahu's concerns, he managed to close a 30 percent gap in public opinion and beat Peres by a small margin.
The Zionist Union, in turn, said that Netanyahu's remarks at Rabin's funeral "prove how low" he can go. "Since then, from two days after the terrible murder of a prime minister until today, nothing has changed," the party said. "Netanyahu only cares about Netanyahu."