Netanyahu’s narrative on corruption cases -Analysis

A guide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's expected responses to the claims in Cases 3000 and 4000

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, March 3rd, 2019 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, March 3rd, 2019
After months of following public statements and appearances by Benjamin Netanyahu and his lawyers, reviewing extensive documents and off-record conversations with a wide range of sources, the prime minister’s narrative can finally be pieced together in extreme detail. The cases most in the headlines are Cases 4000 and 3000.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that Netanyahu will attack nearly every point in the 57-page charge sheet head-on, starting with Case 4000’s key state’s witnesses and former top aides to the prime minister Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz. In Case 4000,Netanyahu is accused of influencing government telecommunication’s policy to help Shaul Elovitch who owned Bezeq in return for positive coverage by the media outlet Walla, also owned by Elovitch.
The following is a guide to what the prime minister’s responses will likely be on an array of claims in Case 4000:
1. Claim: Filber as a witness will sink Netanyahu because he had absolutely zero to gain, and got nothing, from helping Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch get rich from a merger with Yes other than following the prime minister’s orders as part of a bribery scheme.
Response: Even as Filber accuses Netanyahu of giving him directives regarding his treatment of Bezeq and brought documents to Elovitch in August 2015 related to coverage of Netanyahu by Elovitch’s outlet, Walla, Filber never crossed over to saying he acted as part of a scheme to influence Walla’s coverage of the prime minister. Further, Filber may not have gotten a benefit from Elovitch for helping Bezeq in real time, but may have been banking on getting a high-paying job with Bezeq after leaving government service as is often the custom.
2. Claim: Years of articles and hundreds of text messages from Netanyahu messengers Hefetz, Zeev Rubinstein and Sara Netanyahuto Elovitch and between Elovitch and Yeshua to tilt Walla coverage toward the prime minister will drown the prime minister in quantity of proof of a bribery scheme. Netanyahu is mentioned by his messengers to often to plead ignorance.
Response: One thousand negative articles about the prime minister on Walla including specifically in the critical days leading up to elections accusing Netanyahu of ruining relations with the US, mismanaging the economy and other things, will blast a gaping hole in the idea that Walla was especially friendly to him. In fact, even if the massive campaign by Netanyahu aides to get positive coverage from Walla was partially successful at times, a comprehensive review of all articles reveals negative coverage which crushes the idea that Netanyahu would feel indebted to help Elovitch with anything. References to Netanyahu by his messengers were bluffs used by them to try to get Walla editors to do what they wanted, but do not serve as proof that the prime minister knew what they were saying on his behalf.
3. Claim: In 2015 and 2016, Netanyahu in at least three different points when asked about conflicts of interest he might have as Communications Minister, he concealed from the State Comptroller, then the Attorney-General and then his own legal adviser, Shlomit Barnea-Fargo, the extensive close relations he, his wife and his aides had with Elovitch regarding Bezeq and Walla. These relations included working together on a daily basis to influence Walla coverage to help Netanyahu and went far beyond standard politicians’ campaigns to get positive coverage.  
RESPONSE: A specific authoritative government report on what needs to be disclosed in terms of friendship-level connections takes a narrow interpretation of the issue. Under that report’s narrow definition, Netanyahu had no obligation to reveal the ties with Elovitch about media interactions which politicians have with most media organizations. Again, regardless of any extensive investment by Netanyahu aides, he can deny knowledge of much of their efforts, and where he cannot deny, the overall coverage was still negative and did not require disclosure.
4. CLAIM: Not a single apolitical bureaucrat approved the Bezeq-Yes merger without being pressured into doing so against their better judgment by Netanyahu or Filber acting on his behalf.
RESPONSE: Key bureaucrats who approved the deal, Yifat Ben Chai Segev and Dana Neufeld, have publicly said they were not pressured.
5. CLAIM: The February 2017 indictment of Ashkelon mayor Itamar Shimoni for media bribery prevents Netanyahu from claiming he is being singled out for a new kind of bribery charge that does not exist.
RESPONSE: The Shimoni case is far more extreme in there being a claim of a clear payment by Shimoni for positive coverage, so it will not impact Netanyahu. In any event, that case has encountered difficulties and still may fall apart in which case Netanyahu would be the only case ever brought for media bribery.
As of November, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not even an official suspect in the Submarine Affair.
However, suddenly as of March 14, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit opened an initial review into whether Netanyahu is connected to the affair in which many of his top aides are suspected of skimming off funds in Israel’s transaction with a Germany company regarding nuclear submarines.
BACKGROUND: When Netanyahu purchased 1.7% of the shares in the company NMDM in 2007 for around $600,000, it was a supplier for the German company Thyssenkrupp, which later sold Israel and Egypt submarines. At some point, NMDM merged with Graftech International, and in 2010, Netanyahu sold his shares to his cousin, Natan Milikovsky, for around $4,300,000. This was more than a year after he became prime minister. In July 2014, the Defense Ministry opened bidding for offering submarines to Israel. Reportedly, a representative for the prime minister tried to push the defense ministry to choose Thyssenkrupp one week later.
Sometime in 2014-2015, Netanyahu also told German officials that Israel would remove its longstanding opposition to the Germans selling submarines to Egypt.
Netanyahu kept the defense ministry and the IDF in the dark about aspects of purchasing the submarines and about removing opposition to Germany’s sale of submarines to Egypt.
THE CLAIM AGAINST NETANYAHU: The $4,300,000 Netanyahu profited came due to the prime minister’s interventions to promote the submarine sales between Israel and Germany. Netanyahu’s green-lighting Germany to sell submarines to Egypt either directly benefited him or indirectly smoothed relations with Germany to benefit him or Milikovsky (who later returned the favor) in the Israel deal. The Defense Ministry and the IDF opposed buying the submarines as excessive and a waste of valuable defense funds since Israel already possessed other nuclear submarines from Germany, but Netanyahu chose his personal gain over the national interest. Green-lighting the sale to Egypt went against Israel’s national interests to keep advanced weapons out of the hands of its neighbors in the Middle East. Netanyahu changed aspects of his story about the timing of when he sold his shares, went “behind the back” of the defense establishment and changed his story about green-lighting the deal with Egypt. Netanyahu might have known about the bribery scheme since so many of his close aides were involved.
Netanyahu’s Side of the Story: Bibi Didn’t Do Bamba for Submarines
The real image issues are his changing narratives in responding to accusations and the idea that he hid his business relations and profits with Milikovsky until it came out accidentally in a series of letters with the State Comptroller on an unrelated issue – but these are non-issues legally.
His most vulnerable point has been he claimed that there is a top-secret reason he removed Israel’s opposition to Germany selling Egypt submarines and that people who he said knew the reason do not.
If this gets to a legal battle, he will take this part as a political issue. He was not legally obligated to disclose his decision to green-light the submarines to Egypt to anyone. Maybe he got mixed up about saying he told Mandelblit, but even though he did not tell Mandelblit, he did offer to tell the attorney-general and Mandelblit at the time declined of his own accord. Maybe it looks problematic to hide this move from the Defense Ministry, the IDF, the Mossad and to not have told his former advisers Jacob Nagel and Yaakov Amidror or Mandelblit, who he said he had told. But his mistaken statements about who he told were not statements made under oath to police, and in any case, he was not obligated legally to tell anyone.
Beyond that, he will attack the idea that there is any possible chronology or actual supplier function between his business interests and ThyssenKrupp’s submarines. He sold his interests in 2010 and the submarine deals were not finalized until 2016-2017. If someone somehow finds that negotiations in 2010 could be tied to the final deal years later, he will double down that his business interests never had anything to do with the submarines. So what if his business interests related to a tiny amount of ThyssenKrupp’s other business items that were not submarines.
Also, he will say that people are connecting him to the submarine issue using primitive non-legal guilt by association in which if you can somehow manage to connect the dots between two corporations – even if there are several rounds of separation – that makes someone guilty. He will say this will be laughed out of court.
He will continue to add that he purchased the shares in NMDM when he was in the opposition, which is allowed. When he sold the shares, he got approval from the relevant authorities.
Even with the “top-secret” issue, Amidror has said that he believes Netanyahu made the right move buying additional submarines regardless of whether the reason was top-secret. He made indications about supporting Egypt once Abdel Fattah el-Sissi took over from the Muslim Brotherhood. Also, sources indicate that one reason might be that it was expected that Egypt would succeed in acquiring submarines, and it was preferred that they acquire a design Israel was familiar with as opposed to a less familiar design from Japan, France, South Korea or others.