What is the fuss between Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really about?
Why might the police delay, at least for a few days, their roll-out of an anticipated recommendation to indict Netanyahu for public corruption?
For Alsheich, the short answer is that he has turned the corner regarding his approach toward the cases against the prime minister: He has decided to go after the prime minister, and this requires that he paint the premier as corrupt using starker terms than having just received some expensive champagne and cigars.
For Netanyahu, the short answer is he is grasping wildly for a way to influence Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s final decision regarding his potential indictment, and in his desperation, has taken his eye off the ball.
Make no mistake – as much as Netanyahu is playing down the police recommendations as non-binding, having the entire law enforcement apparatus say you broke the law is a body blow.
Though the prime minister now views Alsheich as his No. 1 enemy, it is highly significant that Alsheich is supporting the recommendations against Netanyahu considering that for most of his term he has been viewed as “Netanyahu’s guy,” and as having the prime minister’s back.
In May 2016, Alsheich did all he could to try to hide the police recommendation that Mandelblit indict Sara Netanyahu in the “prime minister’s residence affairs.” Only a public outcry over the lack of transparency forced Alsheich to admit the police had recommended Sara be indicted.
But now that he must go after the premier himself, and now that the prime minister has been preemptively attacking him for some months, Alsheich took the gloves off.
One can debate whether Alsheich crossed a line in his Friday interview, where he implied that the prime minister was sending private detectives to perform surveillance over law enforcement officers in an effort to deter them from indicting him.
But what is not debatable is Alsheich’s message – not only to the public but also to Mandelblit – that in his view, Netanyahu is undermining the rule of law in the country, and not just by getting one too many expensive gifts.
The delay is also about Alsheich’s campaign vis-à-vis Mandelblit.
If the police “only” recommend indicting Netanyahu for breach of public trust for illegally receiving expensive gifts in Case 1000, then Mandelblit could decide to close the case even if there is evidence.
While some outlets have only been reporting it now that Mandelblit would not want to indict Netanyahu – and potentially topple a government without a case viewed both as serious and as even more airtight than usual – The Jerusalem Post
had already reported this in January 2017.
So Alsheich and the police would prefer to be able to recommend indicting Netanyahu for bribery in Case 1000 along with recommending to indict him for Case 2000, the “Yediot Aharonot affair,” as well.
If the police send all of that to Mandelblit, and if they allege that Netanyahu, or someone allied with him, is snooping on them, then Alsheich is suddenly suggesting to Mandelblit that this goes way beyond a few cigars and bottles of champagne.
Bribery, the most serious financial crimes offense, coupled with attempts to intimidate police, are more likely to be viewed as an overall threat to the rule of law.
Meanwhile, Mandelblit wants as much freedom to maneuver as possible, and part of the delay is likely his attempt to water down whatever recommendations Alsheich sends to him in order to preserve that maneuverability.
Here, Netanyahu may be his own worst enemy.
Whether Alsheich’s interview crossed a line or not, the allegations he described of snooping are real and not even new. More importantly, he is still the head of the police.
In the gray zone in which Mandelblit may need to decide whether to indict the prime minister and potentially topple the government,
he will be asking himself: How will lawyers and judges view the case?
He will ask this because these are the people within his inner community, and because lawyers and judges, not Netanyahu, will determine whether Mandelblit gets a prized seat on the Supreme Court when he finishes his current job in four years.
If Mandelblit gets to the Supreme Court, he would be in a unique category with former chief justice Meir Shamgar, who was the top IDF lawyer, attorney-general and then a Supreme Court justice.
Will lawyers and judges view him as being too aggressive in toppling a prime minister over cigars and champagne? Or will they view him as saving the country from a man who has turned against the rule of law?
Netanyahu shot himself in the foot when he attacked the chief of police. That attack may work with some voters, but it will not work with lawyers and judges. It will definitely not work with Mandelblit.
And ultimately, Netanyahu’s fate will not be decided by democracy, but by that one man who he may have just turned off.