Mandelblit owes the Israeli public a decision

Netanyahu is counting on early elections to give him some legal breathing space.

WHICH WAY will the scales tilt? (photo credit: REUTERS)
WHICH WAY will the scales tilt?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
OK, so tell me: just exactly how has Israel’s geopolitical position and security situation dramatically improved over the last six weeks?
From most perspectives, it hasn’t. US President Donald Trump caught everyone by surprise and announced he’s pulling out American troops from Syria, a development that will give Iran the chance to establish a permanent military presence in Syria and enable Tehran and Hezbollah to further destabilize the region. Even right-of-center, pro-Israel lobbying groups such as AIPAC, which until now have refrained from any criticism of the US president, have decried this decision for the potential damage it brings to Israel’s security.
Much closer to home, and in fact extending into Israeli territory, the IDF has been diligently searching out and destroying Hezbollah attack tunnels, dug beneath the border between Israel and Lebanon. Since the beginning of the month, five such tunnels have been discovered in Operation Northern Shield. At least initially, there were serious concerns regarding possible Hezbollah retaliation for the destruction of these prized military assets.
The IDF also reportedly restored its attacks on targets in Syria last week, with the Russian Defense Ministry issuing a statement condemning what it described as “provocative acts by the Israeli air force.” While Israel has made no comment, the assumption is that the warplanes were targeting advanced weaponry and munitions being transferred to Hezbollah by Iran.
This past month has also seen a resurgence in Palestinian terrorist attacks in the West Bank, including the drive-by shooting at Ofra which cost the life of Amiad Yisrael, a newborn delivered prematurely after his mother was shot in the incident, and a similar attack at Givat Assaf, in which two soldiers – Yovel Mor Yosef and Yosef Cohen – were killed. In Gaza, meanwhile, five Palestinians have been killed by IDF fire over the last two weekends during the regular Friday clashes at the border between Gaza and Israel.
Just before any of these events took place, in the middle of November, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu assumed the role of defense minister, replacing Avigdor Liberman, who quit his government. Obviously, it would be ridiculous to claim that since Netanyahu became defense minister, Israel’s security has suddenly taken a turn for the worse and it’s all the prime minister’s fault.
Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria was totally unexpected, Operation Northern Shield had been months in the planning, while the reported IDF attacks in Syria and Palestinian terrorist attacks in the West Bank are, unfortunately, part of the fabric of life in Israel.
But it is instructive to remind ourselves as to what Netanyahu said when appointing himself as defense minister in November. Israel, according to the prime minister, is “in one of the most complex security situations. At a time like this, we do not topple a government and hold an election. It’s irresponsible. We have a year left” (until an election legally must take place).
So on November 18, it was “irresponsible” to hold an early election, and yet by the end of December it was the right thing to do? What changed between these dates? As we’ve seen, peace has hardly broken out in the Middle East in the interim.
What has changed for Netanyahu is that following on from the police’s recommendation to bring bribery charges against the prime minister in Case 4000 at the beginning of the month, the State Prosecutor’s Office has now also made a similar recommendation in Cases 2000 and 4000. The legal noose is beginning to tighten around Netanyahu’s neck, but an early election might just provide the prime minister with some more breathing space.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL Avichai Mandelblit, a former loyal Netanyahu confidant in his previous role as cabinet secretary, is not known for the speed of his decisions. With the fate of the prime minister now resting solely in the attorney-general’s hands, Netanyahu is gambling on the fact that Mandelblit will not announce he is planning to issue an indictment, subject to a hearing, before polling day on April 9. This will allow Netanyahu, despite all the suspicions of illegal behavior, to face the electorate without an actual indictment, listing all his alleged crimes in detail, hanging over him.
Worryingly, a Justice Ministry statement issued last week said that “the work process on the cases will continue as planned. At issue is an orderly and professional work plan independent of political events.” This seems to signal that Netanyahu has called it right, and that the attorney-general is in no hurry to make his decision, even though there are no grounds for such procrastination.
Mandelblit has been closely involved in the investigations into Netanyahu, having agreed to sign agreements with three separate individuals prepared to turn state’s witness against their former boss. Due to his careful monitoring of both the police investigations and the prosecutors handling the case, there is nothing that Mandelblit is not already aware of concerning the allegations against the prime minister.
The attorney-general must not let the threats from Likud sources – or the prime minister himself, depending on which edition of last Thursday’s pro-Netanyahu free paper Israel Hayom one believes – deter him from his task. The electorate deserves to know, well before polling day, whether the person running for another term as prime minister is about to be indicted on serious charges, including that of bribery.
Mandelblit needs to realize he owes us, the electorate, this decision, and not his former boss.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.