Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump at Ben Gurion International Airport.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
What did they know and when did they know it?
Focusing on the Submarine Affair and the Russia collusion probe, even as both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump have succeeded in staying out of their respective prosecutor’s cross-hairs to date, people continue to ask how long this can last.
What would be the tipping point that could directly embroil Netanyahu or Trump in these probes?
Netanyahu is trying to hold off allegations that, because so many of his top advisers have been pulled into the Submarine scandal, he must have known about aspects of the scheme in which top Israeli officials allegedly tried to skim money off the top of an Israel-Germany nuclear-submarine deal.
The list of top Netanyahu advisers facing allegations already includes: key foreign envoy Yitzhak Molcho
; confidante and personal lawyer David Shimron; former chief-of-staff David Sharan; and former deputy National Security Council chief Avriel Bar Yosef.
And yet, on top of being innocent until proven guilty, the prime minister would seem safe as long as none of these inner-circle figures turn against him.
Until developments in October and on Friday, Trump did not have as many members of his inner circle in evident jeopardy as Netanyahu, even as leaks suggested that trouble could be on the horizon.
All of that changed Friday.
It was not just that former Trump National Security Council chief Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to US prosecutors about his contacts with Russia. He also has admitted, as part of a deal to turn state’s witness, that in his discussions with Russia he tried to interfere with Obama administration policy.
This included a December 2016 UN Security Council Resolution
viewed by the Israeli government as unfairly singling out settlement policies as causing conflict, while giving more of a pass to Palestinian terrorism and incitement.
Trump says Flynn's actions during presidential transition were 'lawful' (Reuters)
Alan Dershowitz has said that Flynn was legally within his rights and has condemned the UN resolution the Obama administration allowed to pass by withholding its veto.
But most legal experts say Flynn violated the Logan Act, which prohibits even a president-elect and his staff from interfering with the foreign policy of a sitting president.
And even that was not it.
Reportedly, Flynn was following instructions he got from Trump’s son-in-law and his longest surviving dominant adviser, Jared Kushner, who wanted to prevent Trump from being boxed in by the Obama administration move at the UN.
He allegedly gave Flynn directions by telephone in December 2016 while he was at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort with the then-president elect.
Former deputy NSC chief K.T. McFarland is also suspected of discussing the pro-Israel push at the UN with Flynn.
Add in former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his aide Rick Gates, as well as foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, and Trump’s inner circle may now be more troubled than Netanyahu’s.
For a long time, many had said Flynn would never turn state’s witness against the White House. But now he has, and observers say his plea bargain is too lenient to mean anything other than that he is giving prosecutors a bigger fish.
What will he tell US prosecutors about what Kushner did and knew
and what Trump did and knew? If Kushner falls next, everyone will say he will never turn state’s witness.
All such predictions are irrevocably true, until facing jail time shatters all loyalties.
The same could apply to Netanyahu.
He is not even a suspect in the Submarine Affair, either because he did nothing wrong or because he insulated himself from any direct problematic actions – leaving those actions to trusted inner circle members who would never turn on him.
But Israeli prosecutors already have multiple state’s witnesses. What if Molcho or Shimron suddenly view their cases as far more dire than they do now and see jail as a more realistic possibility?
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s most loyal top aide Shula Zaken never turned on him for years – until she did.
It appears that this kind of direct incrimination by a close adviser is what it would take to tip Netanyahu into any legal jeopardy in the Submarine Affair, just as it is the only thing that could jeopardize Trump.
US Prosecutors’ sudden (to the public) success in flipping Flynn on Friday shows that we will not know whether Kushner may flip against Trump or Molcho and Shimron against Netanyahu until and if it happens.
Until then it will be unthinkable. If it happens, it will just be the new reality.