Bibi Netanyahu has come out with all guns blazing! Within 30 minutes of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s indictment, a solemn-faced and obviously shaken Netanyahu also spoke to the nation. Although he had “great respect” for Israel’s legal system, the state police investigators, the state prosecutor, Shai Nitzan, had conspired and were trying to oust him from office. Never in Israel’s history had there been such an insidious campaign – Netanyahu claimed that it was his investigators who needed to be investigated, and certainly not him. But, how did he explain that the public official, Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, his own appointee who had served as his trusted cabinet secretary, also decided to indict Bibi? The PM’s lame explanation was that Mandelblit caved in to the pressure of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. It was as simple as that. Bibi’s litany went on and on… There was absolutely no validity to the one charge of bribery and two other counts of fraud and breach of trust.
What happens now?
Under Israeli law, and acting PM is not forced to resign, even if indicted for bribery that could send him to five years behind bars. (Oddly enough, his subcontinent cabinet member are forced to quit office, but not their leader). Bibi is determined to fight on while rallying his many Likud supported who have repeatedly voted him to office for 13 years – a record that surpasses such national icons as David Ben Gurion and Menachem Begin.
Netanyahu will now take his battle to the streets with mass demonstrations, believing that tens of thousands of Likudniks will turn out, and they probably will. This strategy will send a stern warning to Likud cabinet ministers and Knesset members that they had better stand behind Bibi, or they will bear the consequences! The fact is that Netanyahu has served as their meal ticket to office.
So far, only one Likud politician, the highly-rated Gideon Saar, has rebelled against Netanyahu. Earlier on the same day, apparently figuring that if the Attorney General was about to indict the PM, Saar publically declared that after Netanyahu has twice failed to form a new Likud-led government following the recent elections, the Likud should now hold an internal party ballot of all its members. Saar declared that he was ready to challenge Netanyahu, believing that he could form a new coalition government amid Israel’s current governmental crisis.
Now, Saar will likely be attacked by Bibi and his most ardent followers for joining the “left-wingers” in the Israeli police and the state prosecutors office who have “deliberately” framed Bibi. It was almost as if Netanyahu was portraying himself as a modern-day Alfred Dreyfus, the French officer who was indeed framed by anti-Semites at the turn of the 20th Century.
So, where are we now after the most exhaustive investigation in Israel’s history has found sufficient grounds for indicting the Prime Minister? Bibi’s Likud cabinet colleagues are in a state of shock, trying to test how the wind will blow inside the party and the public at large. Throughout the revelations of Bibi’s illegal acts of accepting and inviting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cigars and champagne from fat cat friends, the most damning charge is that he tried to “fix” the Israeli media.
Attention will now focus on the pollsters who are working overtime trying to asses how Likudniks and the public at large are reacting. If Likud supporters continue to stand solidly behind Bibi, this will send a warning, loud and clear, to Likud politicians. Therefore, the next few days could be critical. Can Bibi continue to count on party members to rally round the crusade that the PM has launched around Israel’s legal system?
The political shock waves may adversely affect Likud’s prospects in, yet, another national election – the third in less than a year. Netanyahu’s indictment was a long time coming, and when it arrived, it came as a thunderbolt. In some respects, it could have the components comparable to the hectic days before Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination on November 4, 1995, after he launched the Oslo Peace Process with the Palestinians.
Political emotions are running deeply in Israel. For Bibi’s backers, both in the Likud and the far-right, there are Israelis who fervently believe that “Judea and Samaria” (the West Bank) are God’s gift to the Jewish people – they perceive Netanyahu as the guardian of this divine right. The demise of Bibi could go far beyond his being punished for wrongdoing in office. There are Israelis who will perceive this as a threat to their land of greater Israel, with all that entails. Indeed, this was the motive of the assassin who murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Today, tempers are flaring in Israel, Bibi’s supporters and even his critics on the far right are incensed that Attorney General Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Nitzan are deliberately trying to depose “Bibi, king of Israel.”