Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, March 3rd, 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Iranians gained access to sensitive material when it hacked Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s phone, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday, calling for Gantz to tell the public what was on the device to preclude the possibility of blackmail.
“You hid the information about the hack from your party,” Netanyahu said. “Maybe you thought you could hide it from the citizens of Israel as well, but you cannot ask for the trust of the people without revealing the whole truth before Israel.”
Netanyahu, in a statement to the press from the Prime Minister’s Residence, said that Israel’s prime minister must be strong and not easy to blackmail.
Netanyahu: What is Gantz hiding?, March 20, 2019 (Courtesy)
The prime minister spoke ahead of polls which revealed that Blue and White still enjoyed a lead over Netanyahu’s Likud. A Channel 12 poll found that the lead was 32 seats to 27, with Blue and White rising one seat since the channel’s last poll. A Channel 13 poll put the lead at 31 to 29. On the question of who is more fit to be prime minister, the polls found the responses neck and neck. The Right-Center bloc beat the Left-Center bloc in both polls.
The remarks also came nearly a week after reports came out that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) told Gantz several months ago that Iran had hacked his phone.
“How can you stand up to Iran – our number-one enemy – as prime minister, when Iran has sensitive materials about you? It’s not a matter of gossip; it’s a matter of national security,” he argued.
“Citizens of Israel, if you put your trust in me again, I will continue to lead the country responsibly and strongly to more and more great achievements.”
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter – a former Shin Bet chairman and current Likud MK – added that it is unprecedented for an enemy state to hack into the phone of a prime ministerial candidate.
“This would not be the first time in which intelligence agencies have used sensitive materials for blackmail,” Dichter warned. “The thought that the prime minister of Israel will be subject to blackmail from Israel’s number-one enemy is incomprehensible and unacceptable.”
A spokesman for Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied that Tehran was involved in hacking Gantz’s phone.
However, Dichter said the denial “only increases the threat of blackmail” and “the only way to get rid of the blackmail is to put things on the table.”
Netanyahu also accused Gantz of “panicking” over the phone issue and thus trying to distract from it by bringing up the submarines affair, also known as Case 3000.
“They are trying to force new life into an affair that was fully examined – and it was decided, unequivocally, that there was nothing wrong with the decisions I made for Israel’s security,” he said. “There is no new information here.”
Earlier Wednesday, Blue and White leaders escalated their attacks on Netanyahu regarding his role in the submarines affair.
The scandal involves alleged bribery and wrongdoing in the purchase of the vessels from Germany. Several people close to Netanyahu have been embroiled in the affair, including his lawyer and cousin David Shimron. In recent days, it has come to light that Netanyahu sold NIS 16 million of company stock related to the affair, though he has repeatedly denied that he has made money on the deal.
“The issue is so important that it could end up that it was treason,” Blue and White’s number three candidate Moshe Ya’alon told KAN Radio, suggesting that the suspicion that Netanyahu betrayed the state is preventing Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit from dealing with the issue.
The Likud responded that “Ya’alon’s use of the word ‘traitor’ for the prime minister crosses a dangerous redline” and proves that Blue and White leaders had “lost their marbles” in a way that shows they would not be able to handle Iran.
At a meeting of Blue and White’s Knesset candidates in Tel Aviv, Gantz said that the submarine affair must be checked comprehensively.
“It is very worrying that on the most important issues, people close to the top of the regime – and I hope not the top of the regime itself – were involved in things that are so grave: corruption, breach of trust and bribery,” he said. “We can’t let such things happen. It must be investigated by the relevant authorities; the truth must come to light. It is no less than a security and strategic drama.”
In an interview with Army Radio, former prime minister Ehud Barak – who was defense minister when one of the submarines was purchased – said Netanyahu did not have the authority to decide on buying the vessels on his own.
“He must be questioned under caution in the affair,” Barak said.
The Likud responded to Barak that: “All the information about the submarines was checked by the police and prosecution, which decided he was not involved in any wrongdoing.”
Blue and White petitioned the Central Elections Committee to stop Netanyahu from giving his statement from the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Committee chairman and Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer rejected the petition, but said the residence should not be used for election propaganda, including hanging campaign signs in or outside the residence.
However, a Likud flag was posted next to Netanyahu and a banner with the party’s election slogan “Netanyahu. Strong. Right.” hung behind him when he made his statement.
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