While most of the Arab world is surrounded by corruption in the absence of accountability, the picture is different in Israel. Investigations are going on over a stench of corruption around Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a number of people within his close circle. Despite Netanyahu’s efforts to distract attention from the ongoing investigations, his tactics and escalations regarding the ‘Al Aqsa Mosque flare-up’ and the Gaza Strip, (ridiculed and even condemned by a number of Israeli politicians, researchers and media people) did not succeed in sidelining those contentions. In this regard, former Israeli prime minister Yehud Barak said: “Netanyahu is ready to ignite the situation in the region in order to avoid the current investigations with him on a number of corruption-related issues. The events in [occupied] Jerusalem [offer] only a glimpse of Netanyahu’s behaviour down to the abyss”. Haaretz journalist Aluf Benn said: “Netanyahu is playing [a] major role in the power tragedy, but the current season looks stormy more than before, since he seeks to destroy the public confidence in state institutions; the army, the police, the prosecution, the courts, the media and the academia. His aim is to evade accusations against him and his wife, which are based on stinginess, jealousy of the rich and eagerness to win admiration.”
As part of the ongoing investigations, former commander of the Israeli navy, Major General Eliezer Marom, was detained for questioning in the so-called ‘Case 3000’ or the submarine affair. Six other suspects were also held, including former senior government officials close to Netanyahu in the case where his cousin and personal lawyer David Shimron was suspected of attempting to sway deals worth millions of shekels in favour of German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp in his advisory role in the company. Israeli police said the suspects were questioned over suspicions of fraudulence, bribery, tax evasion and money laundering.
In addition to the above case, Israeli police are also investigating the so-called ‘Case 1000’ on suspicion that Netanyahu and his wife Sarah unlawfully received expensive gifts from some businessmen. In a second investigation around what is known as ‘Case 2000’, Netanyahu is suspected of offering to help Yediot Ahronot publisher Amon Mozes to reduce the readership of its rival daily Israel Hayom in return for soft-toned coverage.
In the most recent details on the first and second cases, pressure on Netanyahu increased after his former chief-of-staff, Ari Harrow, became a “state witness”, promising to provide the authorities with material information related to ‘Case 1000’, which will “expand the file and would face Netanyahu if need be and provide the competent authorities with information related to ‘Case 2000’ as well as ‘Case 3000’”. Israeli police announced that “the suspicions surrounding Netanyahu within the investigation around ‘Case 1000’ and ‘Case 2000’ are fraudulence, bribery and breach of trust. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit plans to file an indictment against Netanyahu’s wife on four counts of corruption worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
In another development, the Israeli supreme court has ordered Netanyahu to disclose information on the phone conversations he had with Sheldon Adelson, the owner of Israel Hayom and its former editor-in-chief Amos Regev. Moreover, according to Channel 10, Police also suspect that Miki Ganor, the representative of a German ship-builder, may have offered bribes to senior government officials over the past years, which led Germany to postpone the signing of a memorandum of understanding on a submarines sale deal with Israel. Ganor has also revealed information about other arms deals approved previously, which are bound to broaden the ambit of investigation into the submarine affair.
Within this context, Haaretz said that “It is expected to call the officers who completed their service in the security system or held senior positions previously, for investigation.” Leader of ‘There is a Future’ party Yair Lapid said he believed “the issue of submarines is the biggest corruption issue in the history of [Israel]”. He said: “What has not been denied in this case is that funds from the Israeli Defence Ministry went to a bank account in Germany and moved from there to a secret bank account in Germany, and then made its way to the pockets of the lawyer of the prime minister, a relative and a favourite friend of Netanyahu — all without the knowledge of the defence minister and the security establishment.”
The investigations were bound to have a negative impact on Netanyahu’s reputation in the media. A poll conducted by Channel 10 two weeks ago showed that “51 per cent do not believe Netanyahu’s account of the investigations on suspicion of committing criminal offences in more than one case, while 66 per cent believe that he should resign in the event of an indictment against him”. Only a few days ago, around 1,500 Israelis demonstrated outside the house of Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to protest the slow pace of the investigations against Netanyahu amid calls for urgent action against him and subjecting the prime minister to questioning to reveal the results of the investigations on corruption. Against the backdrop of the corruption issues that Netanyahu is facing, media has spoken about the possibility of early general elections, that are scheduled for 2018.
Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz that he believes “2017 is a turning point that could lead to the downfall of Netanyahu”. The Jerusalem Post wrote that “Netanyahu faces three different scenarios with the increased possibility of his conviction”. It added that “Netanyahu has the option of not resigning now — which he prefers and will do.
The second is to be removed by ministers and go for early elections. The third is to wait for the attorney general’s decision, which is likely to be delayed until 2018.” The newspaper said it believed that “The third scenario is the most realistic, under which, the attorney general takes three to six months to recommend an indictment against Netanyahu, which will keep him in power until the spring of 2018!”
Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.