Is Netanyahu Actually Going to Be Indicted Soon?

The ongoing travails of Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu have been buried in the international news (though not unreported here). He is the subject of three concurrent investigations involving fiscal shenanigans.

There is the matter of the billion-dollar submarine deal Netanyahu pushed through, apparently against protests from Israel’s defense establishment, with ThyssenKrupp, a German firm. The firm is represented in Israel by Bibi’s personal lawyer, and also is partially owned by the Iranian government. There is the matter of hundreds of thousands of sheqalim in gifts which have been showered on him by various wealthy individuals, which he dismisses as “mere trifles.” And there is the matter of a possible deal with an Israeli newspaper magnate, Arnon “Noni” Mozes, to pass a law suppressing Mozes’ main competitor in exchange for favorable coverage in his own paper -- the most widely read and distributed Hebrew-language daily in the country, Yedi’oth Acharonoth.

The latter two cases may be coming to a head.

Last week, Israel’s Walla! News service reported that Israeli billionaire filmmaker Arnon Milchan, who resides in Los Angeles, allegedly testified that he had indeed given the Netanyahus gifts of champagne, cigars, and jewelry valued at tens of thousands of sheqalim (one sheqel is currently worth about 27 U.S. cents). Subsequently, the Jerusalem Post confirmed the story. This came on the heels of earlier testimony from Australian billionaire James Packer, who lavished gifts on Netanyahu’s son Ya’ir, in hopes of influencing his father.

Though Netanyahu’s lawyer continues to insist that there were no surprises and the prime minister has “answered all the questions asked and left the investigation completely relaxed,” Israel’s Channel 2 News has reported that the police are close to recommending an indictment.

At least some of the parties in the current governing coalition, Shas and Yahaduth haTorah, are sufficiently nervous at the prospect that they are pushing Netanyahu to keep all of the promises made in the coalitionary agreement immediately. They fear a coalition collapse in the event of Netanyahu’s possibly having to step down to fight an indictment, as well as the daunting likelihood that the Likud party, divided and disgraced by the downfall of its long-time leader, would go the way of the old Qadima party. Its prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was indicted and convicted of corruption in office, ceding the way to the upstart Yesh Atid party, whose leader Ya’ir Lapid is far more hostile to the religious sector.

A recent opinion poll in Israel suggests that Netanyahu is still the most popular choice as prime minister, with 39% approval, but that his nearest rival is Lapid, with 19% approval. This is despite Lapid’s less than stellar performance as finance minister in the last Likud-led government, the first in which Yesh Atid was a player.