It may be the end of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reign over Israel, as criminal investigators have launched a probe into money laundering claims.
Israeli social media has been ablaze recently with reports of a new investigation of Netanyahu, his son Yair, and the PMO’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow.
This story has not yet been reported by an Israeli mainstream publication and I don’t have an inside reliable source to confirm it, as I usually do when I post these stories. So what I’m reporting is based on what readers are sending me and what’s posted at Israeli social media sites. Despite not being able to affirm with certainty the reliability of the reports, they are important enough, and repeated enough for me to believe that there is a “there” there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.
Netanyahu, according to this account, requested the Mossad provide his son with a false passport so that his security would be protected on overseas trips. But an account in the fictitious name of his passport was identified among the Panama Papers. Lots of money passed through this account. I’ve heard figures from $500,000 up to several million dollars. On the strength of the funds in this account, Yair is suspected of money laundering, possibly in order to avoid taxes or for another motive. According to one source, the guiding light behind the plan was Sara Netanyahu.
Ari Harow’s case has been reported: when he was the chief fundraiser for American Friends of the Likud, he met a New York pediatrician named Victor Deutsch. Harow sold his political consulting company, 3GH Global, to Deutsch for $3-million. The new buyer was supposed to make regular payments as part of the purchase agreement. He made a few payments then, according to Harow he stopped. At that point, Harow claims he took back his company from the purchaser. Investigators are trying to track those payments, whether there were others that weren’t recorded, and where all the money went. Some are speculating it went into Bibi’s pocket or into funding the Likud’s last election campaign. It also seems odd that a medical doctor would buy a political consulting company, and the price paid also seems suspiciously high considering Harow’s company had very few clients.
On the corporate website, it mentions only two clients: the former rightist Spanish prime minister, Jose Anzar and Paraguay’s newly elected president. Harow pimped for the Friends of Israel (FOI) initiative. This is a propaganda project involving Aznar, Richard Kemp, David Trimble, John Bolton & other well-paid pro-Israel advocates. Among other things, they promoted Israel’s killing machine in Gaza after the Mavi Marmara incident. Harow’s contract to promote their work further cements the reputation of FOI as a creature of official Israeli hasbara.
Times of Israel reports that investigators are considering offering Harow immunity if he will testify against his former boss, the prime minister. That would be quite a sight!
I also continue to hear rumors reported by several Israeli bloggers that the Likud engineered a massive electoral fraud which involved 300,000 excess “voters” casting ballots in the final two hours of the 2015 national election, which added 8 seats to Likud’s tally and made the difference between a Likud-led coalition and a Labor-led coalition. As Likud campaign manager during the past two elections, Harow may have some interesting stories to tell.
The State attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit and the special corruption unit of the national police are deep into a complex investigation of these matters. At this point, one can’t say whether all this will blow over as it always has for Netanyahu in the past when he’s faced similar charges; or whether this will transform itself into a career-threatening scandal. I recall a similar process which brought down Ehud Olmert, a few years ago. There were rumors of his past corrupt dealings which gradually morphed into full-scale investigations. No sooner did one scandal appear to fade than a new one rose to take its place. Soon, the drumbeat of corrupt deals and pay-offs grew into a roar that could no longer be avoided. It took quite some time, I recall around two years, before Olmert was finally forced to resign. Now he sits in prison. I have little doubt that’s where Bibi will sit one day, a forlorn, badly dressed convict, as Olmert now is. But this won’t happen overnight.
The same pattern is repeating itself. The scandals come in rapid succession. They grow increasingly serious. The cries of consternation from political allies and average Israelis grow stronger with each new one. The thought that Bibi could resign turns from a distant-possibility to a near certainty. All this happened in Olmert’s case as well.
Expect some interesting political positioning in the ruling coalition. Soon we’ll see the Night of the Long Knives with aspirants for, or pretenders to the throne maneuvering for advantage. I anticipate the first blow will be struck by Pres. Reuven Rivlin, who’s been shunned and belittled by Netanyahu for years. Wait for a statement from Rivlin expressing criticism of corruption in high places (no names, of course). Once you hear this it will only be a matter of time before every other rightist politician who’s ever crossed swords with Bibi (Bennett, Lieberman, Yaalon, Kahlon, Danon, etc.) to sharpen their blades and prepare for the succession fight.
As I’ve written here before, no one should fool themselves that Bibi’s demise will change anything fundamentally in Israeli politics. Corruption will remain endemic. The Likud will remain in power. The next prime minister may have a better smile, he may be slightly more upright or careful, or may have more rapport with the people. But his policies will be little different than Netanyahu’s. So don’t make the mistake of thinking with Bibi finally gone Israel can turn a page and start afresh. This book will never end until someone from outside Israel takes it upon themselves to bring it to a close. And that will not happen any time soon.