In the battle of titans between Netanyahu and his Attorney General, contrary to common wisdom, Netanyahu is gaining the upper hand.
The war of words between Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is escalating like never before with Mandelblit responding to the numerous attacks on him by Netanyahu over social media by giving a far-ranging interview to the mainstream Israeli media. In this interview, the Attorney General made it clear that that he sees his disposition of the bribery cases against Netanyahu as the “crowning achievement of his professional career” and “he main thing I will be remembered by”. So who is winning the battle between these two seasoned worriers, two Jews of roughly the same age, two Israeli patriots, two people who care deeply about the Jewish people and their one and only homeland? Common wisdom gives the advantage to Mr. Mandelblit. It appears to be a foregone conclusion that Netanyahu will run for reelection at the head of the Likud party under indictment for bribery, a felony. Under Israeli law, indictments against public figures can, upon request by the defendant, undergo a hearing process in which lawyers for the defense and the prosecution appear in front of the Attorney General to argue against and in favor, respectively, of the indictment proceeding to a full trial. Even if the indictment against Netanyahu were published today, his legal team would undoubtedly ask for several months to study it before the hearing, making it all but a foregone conclusion that the final decision to go to trial will not be made prior to the April 9th election. This would make Netanyahu the first head of a major political party to run for Knesset under indictment and create the very real possibility that should his party, the Likud, gain the plurality of seats in the Knesset and become the most likely to be able to form a coalition government, the onus on the President of Israel, the titular Head of State, will be to formally ask a person who is facing the very likely possibility of standing trial for bribery to form the next government. All of this puts Israel into uncharted constitutional waters and, Netanyahu’s foes fervently hope, would make Israeli voters reconsider their vote for him and his Likud party.
But it is not only Mr. Mandelblit who is fighting for his place in the history books here. Whatever the outcome of this battle, no matter what happens in the upcoming election, Netanyahu is already the most influential leader Israel has ever had with the exception of the founder of the state, David Ben-Gurion. Netanyahu is the literal father of modern Israel, with all its incredible successes and all its warts as well. Israel and Netanyahu are identical twins, extremely successful land totally not shy about flaunting it. Rich, but always striving to be richer. Loud over-sexed bon vivants to the n-th degree, but also compassionate, always ready to come to the rescue be it an earthquake in Pakistan or a flood in Bangladesh. Netanyahu is the godfather of the Israeli hi-tech, of Israel as the startup nation par excellence. He is nearly as American as he is Israeli. As the architect of surviving the anti-Israel Bush pere et fils (yes, the Bushes were as anti-Israel as they come) and the outright Islamist Barack Obama, Netanyahu is not carried away by the amazingly pro-Israel Trump administration because he knows these policies will not last. Instead, Netanyahu is the main force behind Israel’s BRIC (Brazil, Rissia, India, china) strategy, carefully weaning Israel from its dependence on American political, economic, and military support and redirecting it towards a diversified portfolio of strong relations with Brazil, Russia, India, and China, even when such relations raise heckles in Washington. Even Netanyahu’s fiercest critics and most ardent haters in the leftist Israeli main stream media would admit that there is simply no aspect of Israeli economy, security, politics, and even pop culture on which Netanyahu has not left a massive and permanent impression.
It is precisely because of that, precisely because Netanyahu feels that he is at the height of his powers that he is close to tying it all together to reinvent Israel as something truly special and also because he is vain, like all successful politicians and because he does not want to exit the stage of history with an asterisk after his name that Netanyahu will not let Mandelbilt win this fight. Common wisdom would dictate that Netanyahu keep a low media profile when it comes to his legal troubles; after all, who would want to draw constant attention to their possible indictment for major felonies? But common wisdom is not for a retired officer in Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s most vaunted special forces unit. They invented out of the box thinking after all, as their many exploits, both public and as of yet secret show. No, Netanyahu has a different strategy; not a day passes wherein he fails to release a video on Face Book, a tweetstorm, an Instagram post, in which he takes the battle right to the Attorney General, calling him out for being overtly political, for acting as the front man, the patsy for Netanyahu’s political opponents, for presiding over a political witch hunt. One can’t help but surmise that in doing so Netanyahu is pursuing a two-pronged strategy: first, he wants to discredit Mandelblit as an unbiased servant of the law, one that makes his decisions based exclusively on the evidence before him. Instead, he wants to drag Mandelblit into the political muck, engage with him in a political mud wrestling match, a theater of operations in which Netanyahu is the absolute master and Mandelblit a complete novice. Second, Netanyahu, by generating a constant drip-drip of daily news about his all but certain pre-election indictment, is seeking to immunize the part of the Israeli public (and he needs only about one quarter of the vote, 30 out of 120 Knesset seats to be easily reelected as prime minister) that is already inclined to vote Likud to stick with it and tune out the indictment as a preordained outcome, a political ploy, part of the dirty “white noise” of the election campaign.
It appears that Netanyahu, who has worked with Mandelbilt in various capacities for decades, knows his adversary well. In his recent press interview, Mandelbilt made himself look far from the impartial lawman, rather as a vindictive manipulator, an ego-driven player who is intending to build himself up by destroying the most successful, longest serving, and most popular leader Israel has ever had. Mandelblit looks like someone who, on the eve of an election, is hell-bent on snatching the decision on who is going to lead them through a historically challenging period in human history away from the Israeli public and handing it on a silver platter to Netanyahu’s powerful, but unelectable enemies. Netanyahu saw the chink in Mandelblit’s armor, and it was vanity. The Attorney General, a retired IDF general, simply could not help himself but be dragged into the political muck; he could not let slide Netanyahu’s personal attacks, first insinuated and then more and more direct, against his character, his integrity as a public servant. In his counter-attack, Mandelblit lowered himself to Netanyahu’s level, exposing himself as the political creature, the useful marionette for anti-Netanyahu forces that Netanyahu had always claimed him to be.
It is my prediction that the story of the upcoming election has already been written: an indictment, subject to a hearing will be filed in early February, its main points disclosed to Netanyahu’s legal team. Netanyahu will use selective leaks from the indictment as an integral part of his reelection campaign, painting himself as the champion of the people who is beset by powerful unelected and unelectable interests whose only goal is to take away the people’s right to choose their leader in order to line their pockets and gain more power. Mandelblit will be dragged deeper and deeper into the trap that Netanyahu set for him, looking more and more like a political operative. Netanyahu will run and win reelection under indictment, with the hearing whether or not to proceed to trial scheduled for the May time frame. Whether such a hearing will take place and what will be its outcome is impossible to predict, but even if Netanyahu were to stand trial and had to resign his position as the head of the government and his Knesset seat, the coalition government led by the Likud would survive to the benefit of Israel and its people.