Seven months have passed since he was last questioned, and the picture for Netanyahu is decidedly worse.
Until last month, the debate was only over whether the prime minister had received overly generous, and therefore illegal, gifts from tycoons like billionaire Arnon Milchan in “Case 1000.” But there was no smoking gun, no quid pro quo – no allegation of bribery, the most serious of corruption crimes.
Then the pieces started to fall into place.
Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow, cut a plea-bargain deal relating to allegations against him in exchange for giving detailed information about how Netanyahu operated with his donor friends.
Harow also gave detailed information about how the prime minister conducted himself regarding the media bribe affair, “Case 2000,” in which he allegedly took action to undermine Israel Hayom on the assumption that, in exchange, Yediot Aharonot
would give him favorable coverage.
Sources familiar with the case have indicated that Harow himself did not provide smoking-gun testimony, but that his additional information helped the police nail down a new level of depth that helped develop what Netanyahu might have offered Milchan – namely, his assistance in getting British billionaire Leonard Blavatnik, who was negotiating to buy Channel 10, to make a more generous offer. Because Milchan owned Channel 10 shares, he could have benefited from a more generous offer.
Netanyahu surrogates have replied
that anytime he can try to get foreign investors to put more money into the country, he encourages it in his role as prime minister.
Even if Netanyahu has an alternate narrative, as soon as a possible quid pro quo is in the picture, there is more pressure on Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to indict and let a court work out what happened.
The new level of depth also reportedly led to Israel Hayom
owner Adelson confirming that Netanyahu discussed with him the possibility of canceling the newspaper’s weekend edition.
This would seem to prove Netanyahu was trying to seal the deal he made with Yediot Aharonot
owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes.
Benjamin Netanyahu dismissive of corruption allegations on January 2, 2017
The prime minister has not yet fully responded to this new development, but in the past has said the entire interaction was an elaborate game between himself and Mozes that never led to anything.
Police leaks have indicated that they believe they have a strong case for indictment in the illegal gifts affair.
Those same leaks, however, have hedged lately regarding the media bribery affair despite high confidence in the case seven months ago.
There also appears to be internal police debate about whether to recommend an indictment for Case 1000, even as they continue to probe Case 2000.
This is an unlikely scenario and, even if they did that, Mandelblit has indicated that he will decide all of the prime minister’s cases at once and not piecemeal.
This is also what he did with the probe into Sara Netanyahu’s many criminal affairs
, even as his description of his decisions made it clear that many had been reached much earlier.
Sources close to the case told The Jerusalem Post
long ago that the threshold for indicting Netanyahu would be even higher than the already high beyond-a-reasonable- doubt standard for a normal person or even minister.
Simply put, they indicated that it would be problematic for Mandelblit to indict Netanyahu, cause the government to fall and then lose in court.
Those who think Mandelblit will just give the prime minister a free pass simply because he used to work for him as cabinet secretary seem to forget, however, that the attorney-general announced last month that he will likely indict Sara Netanyahu.
That decision permanently banished Mandelblit from the Netanyahu family and he went for it anyway.
Instead, the key to understanding Mandelblit is remembering that he spent much of his career as an IDF public defender and tends to see holes in the prosecution’s case based on that perspective.
Although he indicted Sara Netanyahu, he closed most of the affairs, and his explanations as to why were panned by some career prosecutors who see cases differently.
Ultimately, Mandelblit’s decision may come down to how well or poorly Netanyahu explains or fails to explain the new, more concrete allegations against him.
In that sense, the future of the country could be riding on the interrogations of the coming weeks.