Amazing as the latest revelations were about what goes on behind closed doors at the Israel Police and State Attorney’s Office—the improper cooperation, cover-ups and conflicts of interest that infuse professional decisions—they didn’t really surprise anyone who has closely followed these systems. They certainly didn’t surprise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
His latest attacks against the “law-enforcement system” are not part of the legal defense in his trial, which is slated to restart in January. They also aren’t meant for members of his Likud Party or his supporter base, who have been furious at the police, the State Attorney’s Office, the attorney general and everyone in between for a long time already. Rather, political observers believe Netanyahu is aiming his arrows at a completely different target audience—the three leaders of the Blue and White Party: Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn.
Because behind the scenes, in the shadow of the coronavirus, Netanyahu’s trial and the protests outside his official residence in Jerusalem, the real battle is raging over the fate of the entire Israeli political system—the fight for the override clause pertaining to the alternate prime minister.
It appears that Netanyahu is starting to come to grips with the fact that despite his evasive maneuvers, the rotation with Gantz is closer than ever to becoming a reality. As long as the economic situation remains dire, the corona pandemic keeps getting worse and the testimony phase of his trial devastates the Likud’s election campaign, Netanyahu cannot utilize the December exit station he negotiated, which means he is firmly entrenched on the path toward passing the budget and losing his seat to Gantz.
What he won’t agree to concede on, under any circumstance, is the possibility that the High Court will disqualify him from serving as alternate prime minister on the claim that despite the ratified law on the matter, his status would be closer to that of a minister, who must resign if indicted, than that of prime minister. Netanyahu’s demand of Gantz is unequivocal: Without the override clause against the High Court on the matter, there will not be a rotation. Gantz, it appears, tends to agree. His narrow path to the premiership suddenly becomes a little wider. Nissenkorn, however, and the person who has often emerged as the party’s true string-puller, Gabi Ashkenazi, adamantly object. The “Mandelblit axis,” as they are known.
Even when the truth cries out, and the gross injustices of the legal system are exposed for all to see, Nissenkorn, backed by Ashkenazi, continues to stand as a bulwark in defense of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, senior state prosecutors and their allies, the judges, shielding them from criticism and exacerbating the public’s already eroded trust in the system. But this is what Mandelblit wants, and so that’s what he is getting. As military advocate general, Mandelblit worked for then-IDF chief Ashkenazi. Now, Foreign Minister Ashkenazi is repaying Attorney General Mendelblit the favor. What these two talk about in private these days, no one knows. But what did they discuss in private back in the day? Now everyone knows.
It’s very doubtful that Netanyahu’s latest attacks will soften Nissenkorn’s and Ashkenazi’s stance. After all, they care more about appeasing Mandelblit than protecting the legal system.
But this isn’t what Netanyahu wants. From his perspective, Gantz needs to exhibit leadership and block the floodgates if he wants to be prime minister next November. If he doesn’t, he won’t be. Not then and apparently not ever.
Mati Tuchfeld writes for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.