Does alleged PM attack on A-G make pre-election indictment more likely?

If, as expected, Netanyahu is eventually indicted, and if he refuses to resign, the High Court is more likely to force him out if they view him as a threat to the rule of law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, December 2, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, December 2, 2018
It is not 100% clear, but it appears that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some supporters have made the same mistake by attacking Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit about the handling of public corruption probes as they did with the ex-police chief.
The bottom-line: Netanyahu and his supporters may have made it more likely that Mandelblit will announce his intent to indict the prime minister before the election. They may also have made it more likely that the High Court of Justice would order Netanyahu to resign should he be indicted – and if he refuses to voluntary quit, then the issue would come before the High Court.
In a Thursday report by Mati Tuchfeld of Yisrael Hayom, Netanyahu was quoted as saying in closed conversations that he does not believe that Mandelblit will dare to announce intent to indict him pre-election.
He was also quoted as saying that he would refuse to resign as prime minister even if Mandelblit indicts him, until he is convicted.
Next, senior Likud officials were quoted as saying that if Mandelblit did dare to announce intent to indict Netanyahu before the election, they would attack him without mercy and focus the campaign on him.
Following the report, Netanyahu and the Likud came under a wide range of attacks by their political opposition, who said such attacks on the attorney-general were an affront to the rule of law.
Mandelblit himself refused to respond.
Later on Thursday, Netanyahu and the Likud denied the Yisrael Hayom story not once, but twice.
So was the story true – and what are its implications?
After a review by The Jerusalem Post, it appears that the story is true and that, carefully read, the two denials do not even specifically deny the statements attributed to Netanyahu as much as they deny the statements made by senior Likud officials.
It must also be kept in mind that Yisrael Hayom is an overtly pro-Netanyahu newspaper, which has strong access to the prime minister and his supporters and which would not likely manufacture a story that had not been proposed by the Netanyahu side.
So if the story is true, why the denials?
It appears that originally, Netanyahu’s camp thought there were benefits in assuring voters that a vote for Netanyahu meant a vote for a prime minister who will stay in office – as well as benefits in pressuring Mandelblit to push off his decision without Netanyahu himself explicitly saying that.
But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and it appears that once Netanyahu and Likud officials saw the story and how it played out, they realized they had overplayed their hand.
However, the truth is they should have known beforehand that pressuring Mandelblit is a losing game.
Mandelblit is not just any attorney-general, but came to the post after serving as one of the longest IDF military advocates-general in recent memory. In that post, he aggressively prosecuted ethical issues in the IDF, such as against Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yiftah Ron-Tal regarding a complex question of his use of IDF subsidies to pay his rent.
Mandelblit did not flinch, despite the intense pressure against going after a member of the IDF’s high command.
Between that post and serving as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary from 2013 until early 2016, he would be a heavyweight with many of his own supporters in the legal and defense establishment, even without the title of attorney-general.
Attacking such a man either gets you nowhere or encourages him to move forward with the indictment announcement with a view that the rule of law has now been put at risk.
The same could be true about the High Court.
If, as expected, Netanyahu is eventually indicted, and if he refuses to resign, the High Court is more likely to force him out if they view him as not only guilty, but also a threat to the rule of law, than they would for a prime minister who they view as defending the legal establishment.
What is also surprising is that one would think that those contemplating the pressure strategy would have learned from the same failed attempt against former police chief Roni Alsheich.
Netanyahu and Alsheich were not always enemies. Ironically, the prime minister had to almost beg him to take the job, as Alsheich had been number two in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and wanted the top job there.
Early in his term, Alsheich took pains to protect the Netanyahu family, facing criticism from the media and Mandelblit when he almost covered up the police recommendation to indict Sara Netanyahu in the “Prepared Food Affair.”
However, a series of events with each side offending the other, including public attacks by Netanyahu and his supporters on Alsheich, eventually led to complete alienation. This meant that when the police recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery in cases 1000 and 2000 this past February and in Case 4000 a few weeks ago, it did it loudly and fiercely.
All that the attacks on Alsheich did were to get him dedicated to making sure that all police recommendations against Netanyahu were publicized before the police chief left office.
Mandelblit has been coy about whether he will make his decision before the election.
But attacking him now will do nothing or will even make matters worse, both before him and possibly before the High Court as well, if it comes to that.