Benjamin Netanyahu Image Credit: AP

Occupied Jerusalem: Night after night over the past two weeks, at the top of the evening news hour, Channel 2 investigative reporter Guy Peleg has read aloud from leaked transcripts of secret recordings of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The revelations have dominated the news cycles — centered on alleged negotiations between Netanyahu and the publisher of Israel’s dominant newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.

Excerpts from transcripts of the taped conversations appear to suggest that the two were conspiring to improve the prime minister’s image while boosting the fortunes of the publisher.

The Israeli TV journalist reads from the leaked transcript, playing both characters.

The two antagonists, like a pair of boxers in the ring, appear to bob and weave, and wheel and deal, over which columnists to muzzle and which to promote and how to keep Netanyahu in the prime minister’s office and the financially strapped newspaper in the black.

Israelis are divided over who comes off worse — the media baron or the prime minister.

Even a die-hard Netanyahu columnist told The Washington Post that the evening broadcasts felt like “Chinese water torture.”

The drip, drip, drip of alternatively embarrassing and damaging material continues, as a police investigation into Netanyahu enters a potentially career-altering phase: whether the prime minister should be charged with any crime.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is also under investigation for accepting thousands of dollars in Cuban cigars, French wines and other luxe goodies from wealthy executives with business to do in Israel and abroad.

The Israeli leader has waved away the swirling scandal, repeating his Twitter-ready line about the probes.

“They won’t come to anything,” Netanyahu says, “because there isn’t anything.”

The Israeli Prime Minister, alongside his lawyer and allies, have acknowledged that the two-year-old tapes are real but complain they are being edited for maximum damage and minimum context.

They say the leaks are designed to goose the attorney general to make indictments. Even weak, ultimately beaten charges could prove a mortal wound for Netanyahu in Israel’s shark-invested political waters.

Netanyahu has been “questioned under caution” by police investigators. So has the newspaper publisher.

A poll released on Friday by the newspaper Maariv found that 57 per cent of respondents believe “the suspicions against the prime minister have substance.”

“A majority believes that there is fire behind the smoke, and a minority simply does not know. The attorney general will decide in terms of the criminal basis. Publicly, Bibi has a real problem,” wrote Maariv columnist Ben Caspit, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

The investigations have come to be called ‘Case 1000’ and ‘Case 2000,’ now household words.

Case 1000 began as the fun, frivolous one for most Israelis, about pink champagne and fancy cigars.

These gifts were allegedly given by the crate to the Netanyahus by Hollywood movie mogul Arnon Milchan, who produced ‘The Revenant,’ ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Pretty Woman,’ among other credits.

On Friday, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the prime minister’s staff may have used code words for the delivery of cigars, dubbed “leaves,” and blush champagne, dubbed “pinks,” allegedly a favourite of the prime minister’s wife, Sara, who the Israeli press delight in characterising as a kind of Marie Antoinette.

Israeli media said the bill for the gifts over eight years could top $130,000 (Dh477,360). Milchan, an Israeli, lives in Los Angeles. More pricey gifts — including airfare and hotel stays for the Netanyahu family — were allegedly given by Australian businessman and billionaire James Packer, Mariah Carey’s former beau.

Yedioth Ahronoth is the most powerful newspaper in Israel. It used to be the most read — and most profitable — until American casino magnate and Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson launched a competitor called Israel Hayom, or Israel Today.

The Israel Today tabloid is free and is now the largest circulation newspaper in the country. Adelson is a political supporter and close confidant of Netanyahu’s (who in the tapes calls his patron ‘Ginger’ for his red hair). Adelson’s newspaper is steadfast in its editorial boosting of Netanyahu. Critics say the newspaper loses money and is nothing more than a propaganda organ.