Netanyahu’s nightmare

The PM could be toppled by his own hedonism and hubris as the corruption probes heat up.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU consults with Avichai Mandelblit. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU consults with Avichai Mandelblit.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It could end up being as dramatic as a Shakespearean tragedy.
It is a tale of a charismatic leader who achieved nearly limitless power in his land. After years of attempted political purges, he outlasted all of his potential opponents, leaving no significant internal challenges.
After eight years of battles, he even outlived his arch-nemesis from abroad, who is replaced by an ally who admires him and with whom he shares a lot in common.
It appeared as though nothing could bring him down.
But ultimately, like other protagonists popularized by William Shakespeare, our tragic leader is felled not by his enemies but by the sword of his own hedonism and hubris.
That is what could be written in retrospect about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if he is forced to leave office due to one of the three criminal investigations that are intensifying against him.
Benjamin Netanyahu dismissive of corruption allegations on January 2, 2017
Police are probing into whether he received illegal, exorbitant gifts, conspired in the country’s media market, or was involved in his close confidant cousin’s effort to ensure that Israel would purchase expensive German naval vessels. What the three cases have in common is they all accuse him of putting his own good and that of his family over the good of the country.
Any one of the three could bring Netanyahu down in a matter of months, causing political chaos. But he could end up outlasting all of them, as he has overcome multiple investigations in the past.
The likes of Silvan Shalom, Gideon Sa’ar, Moshe Feiglin and Danny Danon in the Likud irked Netanyahu in the past but never posed a serious threat.
He has had his share of personal battles with leaders of parties who were once his underlings, such as Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman.
But the only leader who caused Netanyahu real distress over the past several years was US president Barack Obama. Their disagreements over Iran, the wider Middle East, the Palestinians and settlements kept up at night a prime minister who barely sleeps as it is.
Netanyahu did it. He outlasted Obama.
After 10-and-a-half years as prime minister with no Republican president, Netanyahu, who walks, talks and has policies like a Republican, finally got one.
And not just any Republican. Netanyahu got Donald Trump, who famously told The Jerusalem Post in 2013 that he wished Netanyahu could be the next president of the United States.
While Netanyahu will not be America’s president, for the first time he could have a huge influence on one. When they meet at the White House on February 15, Netanyahu hopes to persuade Trump to adopt his ideas on Iran and the Palestinians.
Netanyahu could end up being no less than the brains behind Trump. Through Trump, Netanyahu could end up ruling the world, or at least the part of the world that matters most to him.
Or he could end up following his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, to prison. Israeli politics are that dramatic right now.
A Likud politician close to Netanyahu said this week that if Netanyahu is forced to step down, the Likud will fall with him. After years of Netanyahu building himself up as a stately evergreen tree under which nothing could grow, there is no successor who is ready.
Instead, there would likely be a battle royal, which Merriam-Webster defines as a fight participated in by more than two combatants, especially one in which the last fighter in the ring or the last fighter standing is declared the winner.
There could be as many as a dozen candidates for leader of the Likud. All the potential contestants know the DNA of the party. Unlike the Labor Party, which decapitates its leader in a short period of time, Likud has had only four leaders, and they all lasted a long time.
That is why this is not a race that anyone who hopes to lead the party any time in the next two decades could afford to sit out.
It could even be hard to find an interim leader from among Likud ministers, while the election takes place.
Netanyahu’s allies Yuval Steinitz and Tzachi Hanegbi have been mentioned as possible “Medvedevs for Netanyahu’s Putin,” to head the government while Netanyahu continues to pull the strings from behind the scenes.
But the Likud politician close to Netanyahu said such a situation would be temporary. The Likud would lose a general election and head to the opposition, refusing to play second fiddle in a government for the first time, even if its new leader would need experience in a senior ministerial role.
Netanyahu will do everything possible to prevent this nightmare scenario from taking place. He will defend himself when he is questioned by police, he will delegitimize the investigations, and he will continue to advance his ideas with Trump and other world leaders, playing the “business as usual” game to look as if he is not under pressure.
Unlike Ariel Sharon, who was accused of withdrawing from the Gaza Strip to appeal to a left-wing legal establishment and keep hold of power, Netanyahu’s political interest is in keeping his right-wing base together. With Sharon, the saying that rhymed in Hebrew and sort of in English was “omek ha’akira ke’omek hahakira” – the depth of the evacuation is the depth of the investigation.
With Netanyahu, it is “the more legal plight, the more he’ll have to go to the Right.”
That could explain why Netanyahu was silent as 40 families were evacuated from Amona Wednesday, and why he intends to build the first legal and official new settlement since former Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister in 1991.
Anyone expecting the drama of a peace process with the Palestinians will be sorely disappointed. But there will be plenty of drama without that.
And no one makes peace in Shakespearean tragedies anyway.