Analysis: Netanyahu's big election bluff?

Is the election threat merely about impressing the police and the A-G, or does the PM really want to initiate an election now, in order to prevent criminal cases against him from moving forward?

Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
There are so many political crises in Israel that it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, a mega-storm from a mini threat, an election from a tweet.
Most of the political crises are initiated by small parties seeking to flex their muscles and get their way on an issue, no matter how sectarian, self-serving or small. Israel’s political system encourages such insubordination by giving small parties that can make or break a coalition disproportionate power.
That is why it is surprising when a crisis is initiated by the prime minister. Normally, prime ministers and their ruling party have more reason than anyone to avoid crises, instability and elections that could unseat them.
As Netanyahu faces police questioning, rivals look "post-Bibi" (credit: REUTERS)
But these are not normal times. Netanyahu is facing three potentially serious criminal investigations.
As written in The Jerusalem Post’s Frontlines section on Friday, exactly two years after the last election the gift-accepting affair, the problematic negotiations with a newspaper owner and the submarine scandal have all given politicians who see themselves as future prime ministers new hope that Netanyahu will not keep his job forever.
That is why every step taken by any of those potential prime ministers must be looked at within that context, and every move made by them must be assumed to have been analyzed and approved in advance by a strategist.
The same holds true of Netanyahu.
But unlike his potential successors, Netanyahu’s target audience is not his voters. And his strategist is not a political one but a legal one.
Netanyahu is trying to impress the police, who are expected to recommend his indictment within a month or two, and Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit, who will ultimately decide whether to indict the prime minister and perhaps end his career.
As part of that effort, Netanyahu has been traveling around the world, visiting capital after capital, leaving him little time in Israel to be questioned by police. The message from his visits to Washington, London, Baku, Astana, Singapore, Canberra, Moscow and Beijing is that Netanyahu is indispensable, irreplaceable, larger-than-life, larger than Israel.
It is as if he is saying: Who do you think you are to indict me? That message is reinforced by the spin put out by Netanyahu’s associates that world leaders are turning to Netanyahu to help them get to US President Donald Trump, and ambassadors from around the world are asking Netanyahu’s man in Washington, Ron Dermer, for help getting an audience with Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon.
It is mere speculation that the phone call Netanyahu received from Trump while he was being questioned by police was orchestrated for the same reason. But it sure looked fishy.
So does this election threat. Will Israelis be forced back to the polls to save the jobs of the Israel Broadcasting Authority workers? Really? The same people Netanyahu has strung along for two years? The folks he compared to Hamas in his ads last election?
Anything is possible after Netanyahu’s admission two months ago that he initiated the last race to save the Israel Hayom newspaper, and not the reason he said ahead of the election, which was his inability to trust his coalition partners in the security cabinet.
If the last election was really about Netanyahu’s desire to control the media, even though he said it was about something else, could an election now, which Netanyahu says is about his desire to control the media, really be about something else, namely his criminal investigations?
Absolutely. But that leaves one question: Is the election threat merely about impressing the police and the attorney-general, or does Netanyahu really want to initiate a vote now in order to prevent the cases against him from moving forward?
That question will be answered in a matter of days. Meanwhile, Netanyahu will enjoy watching from China as the media ponder whether this is just the chaff, a mini-threat and a tweet, or the wheat, a mega-storm and an election.