The New and Secret Investigation Against Netanyahu

If the latest police probe into the prime minister leads to an indictment and resignation, who will replace him – and, no less important, who will examine his case?

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arriving at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, July 3, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arriving at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, July 3, 2016.Credit: Gali Tibbon/Reuters

There really is a major and important police investigation being conducted into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I don’t know many more details, but it’s not a continuation of “Bibi-Tours” or the story about the French philanthropist/alleged crook Arnaud Mimran. It’s something new – recent, apparently – and is currently preoccupying the heads of the Israel Police and State Prosecutor’s Office.

The details are known only to a few in on the secret, and I know only crumbs of information. What’s certain is that there’s a new and major investigation against the prime minister, which will probably explode soon.

The leaders of the political establishment are already busy with scenarios. Since I have conducted several such conversations lately, here is the political path down which we are apparently about to march. After the investigation erupts, there will, as usual, be a period of uncertainty: Is it serious? Is it politically fueled? Will there be an indictment?

One thing is certain. It’s a period when the prime minister will be weakened and find it difficult to initiate any significant action. Certainly Netanyahu, who has no dramatic move on the agenda, anyway.

Some of his coalition partners are already joking among themselves, saying that in light of the investigation, he will probably come up with some new peace plan. During the era of the endless investigations into then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, we used to believe it was not possible that they didn’t affect his ability to work. Years later, it should be noted that Olmert dared to carry out several very courageous steps despite the investigations, including the bombing of the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.

On the other hand, Olmert would probably agree that his ability to promote a diplomatic process with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was weakened, and that even what he wanted to do in Gaza, long before Operation Cast Lead in the winter of 2008-09, he found very difficult to carry out in light of the suspicion that everything was being done in order to escape the investigations.

The political scenario will become even more problematic if the investigation concludes with a recommendation to indict Netanyahu. He has done a marvelous political job in eliminating any alternative to his rule. He has never filled the position of “deputy prime minister,” although it’s a position defined in law. No legal adviser will dare force him to fill it. If Netanyahu is forced to resign, there is no deputy who could replace him immediately.

Netanyahu will probably want to appoint one of his confidants – someone like Yuval Steinitz – who would give the job back if the legal construct falls apart. The question is whether Netanyahu will have enough power to pass such a decision in the Likud faction, and afterward in the cabinet, if he’s facing an indictment.

At the present time, Likud has no natural candidate for the position of prime minister, not even on a temporary basis. There’s no Moshe Ya’alon, no Gideon Sa’ar, no Silvan Shalom. The candidates are of the level of ministers Tzachi Hanegbi, Gilad Erdan and Yisrael Katz.

It’s clear that whoever might succeed in receiving a temporary appointment will enjoy a tremendous advantage ahead of any party primary. In any event, anyone who is not an MK cannot serve as prime minister, even if he wins the primary.

Netanyahu worked hard to ensure that the law-enforcement heads owe their positions to him. Everything has already been said about how he engineered the appointment of Jerusalem District Court Judge Joseph Shapira as state comptroller in 2012. Netanyahu, as we know, also left no stone unturned so that, for the first time in the country’s history, someone serving as a senior official in the cabinet would immediately afterward become the attorney general. Meanwhile, Avichai Mendelblit is not delivering the goods.

Netanyahu was the one who convinced Roni Alsheich to accept the job of police commissioner. Incidentally, Netanyahu promised him that if he was still prime minister, he would make him the next head of the Shin Bet security service at the end of his term as police commissioner, with a promise that is almost reminiscent of the “Bar-On Hebron” affair in the 1990s.

It’s almost inconceivable that these people, or at least some of them, will be the ones supporting the new investigation against the prime minister who appointed them.