Benjamin Netanyahu's indictment: The PM comes out swinging - analysis

Netanyahu has made clear he will fight, and fight hard.

Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protest outside his residence following Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit's indictment ruling in Jerusalem (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protest outside his residence following Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit's indictment ruling in Jerusalem
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
It was a mantra that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated for years as the various allegations against him unfolded: “There won’t be anything, because there wasn’t anything.”
On Thursday, following investigations that spread over more than three years and cost hundreds of millions of shekels, Netanyahu’s hand-appointed attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, begged to differ: There was something.
In fact, there was a lot of something. There was fraud, and there was a breach of trust and – worst of all – there was bribery.
True, this is all only Mandelblit’s determination and now it will go to the courts for the final say. But now there definitely is something – at the very least, a very serious indictment. Whether it holds up in court is a different matter.
Mandelblit’s decision a day after Blue and White head Benny Gantz returned to the president his mandate to form a government, and as the coalition building process goes to the Knesset, could very well start the ball rolling that will lead to the end of the Netanyahu era.
But Netanyahu made clear in his statement to the nation on Thursday evening that he is not going gently into that good night. Convinced of his innocence, and that – indeed – there wasn’t anything, Netanyahu made clear he will fight, and fight hard.
“The feeling of righteousness and justice burns inside me,” he said with pathos. “I will not let the lie win.”
But why is he fighting?
His chances now of getting 61 MKS to support him as prime minister seem nil. Moreover, his chances of doing better – if the country goes back to a third election – now that the indictment has been filed than beforehand are also slim.
His stalwart supporters will support him to the end, believing – as he claims– that this all a giant conspiracy by the Left to remove him from office through legal means, because they are unable to do it via the ballot box.
His stalwart supporters will also rationalize that while he may have taken some free cigars and champagne, or received positive coverage in exchange for political favors, everybody does it, and this is not enough to kick out of office a man who has brought the country so much.
But not all who voted for him in April, or even September, are stalwart supporters who would follow him through fire and water.
Among those who voted for him are people who respect his abilities and what he has done for the country, but also don’t want to think that the man who leads their country – who has the ability to send their children into war – has been charged with serious crimes. It is hard to believe that Netanyahu, with these indictments over his head, would fare better in a third election than he did in the first or second.
But Netanyahu, as his 17-minute address made clear, is not convinced. He seems to believe that he can still win people over, that he can convince them that he has been dealt with unjustly, that the prosecution is contaminated, and that the system is flawed. “Vote for me, we’ll show them,” could be his next campaign battle cry.
Which is why – rather than stepping aside – he is willing to drag the country through what will be a particularly bruising and ugly battle.
Remember this line from his address on Thursday night: “investigate the investigators.” You will hear it ad nauseam until the next election.
Faced with traumatic events, people – according to psychologists – either flee, freeze or fight.
Netanyahu, predictably, has chosen to fight. But he is doing it at a time when rockets from Gaza just paralyzed the country for a number of days, and Iranian missiles were fired on Israel from Syria. Fateful, life-and-death decisions may need to be made tomorrow, or next week or next month. Can he make those decisions with this heavy cloud now over his head?
He says he can, and Netanyahu – over the last three and a half years of this investigation – has shown an impressive ability to compartmentalize, to put his personal issues away somewhere in his brain and continue to function at an extremely high level. He has shown an uncanny ability to walk and chew loads of gum at the same time.
But the danger now is one of perception: if he attacks Iranian assets in Syria tomorrow, is this because of a genuine need to do so, or a desire to deflect attention from his legal woes? The same is true if he orders the assassination of another senior terrorist in Gaza. And even if all those decisions will be made solely on their merit, much of the country will have their doubts.
No one really expected that Netanyahu, after receiving the news of the indictment, would face the nation and say he would step down. That is simply not the Netanyahu way. But his decision to come out swinging is a fateful one whose consequences will be borne by us all.