For jet-set Bibi, the real trou­ble is all back home

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ANSHEL PF­EF­FER

BEN­JAMIN NE­TANYAHU is in globe-trot­ting, su­per-states­man mode.

On Mon­day, he landed back in Is­rael af­ter a rap­tur­ous and his­tor­i­cal trip to Aus­tralia, the first of­fi­cial visit by an Is­raeli prime min­is­ter down un­der.

His Aus­tralian coun­ter­part, Mal­colm Turn­bull, took two days out of his busy schedule to ac­com­pany the guest, and the prime min­is­ter was given what could only be de­scribed as a rock star’s re­cep­tion from Jewish au­di­ences.

Ear­lier in the month there were vis­its to Lon­don, Wash­ing­ton and Sin­ga­pore and, while he was not wel­comed with any­thing re­sem­bling the Aus­tralian ex­u­ber­ance, they were all suc­cess­ful. Theresa May, Boris John­son, Don­ald Trump, Michael Pence, Rex Tiller­son, Tony Tan and Lee Hsien Loong all greeted Mr Ne­tanyahu as an old friend, prais­ing Is­rael as a dy­namic na­tion with which they wanted to do busi­ness.

Any crit­i­cism of its set­tle­ment pol­icy and the stag­na­tion of the peace process was kept to a min­i­mum, and usu­ally men­tioned only be­hind closed doors.

There is more to come this month, with a visit to China, where trade is ex­pected to be the main item on the agenda; and a short trip to Moscow, where Mr Ne­tanyahu will meet Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. Mr Ne­tanyahu will be hop­ing he can con­vince the Rus­sian leader to en­sure Iran and its prox­ies are not al­lowed near Is­rael’s bor­der with Syria. Af­ter the trip to Rus­sia, the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter will head back to Wash­ing­ton for Aipac’s an­nual con­fer­ence.

This is how the prime min­is­ter likes to see him­self: a con­fi­dent and re­spected geopo­lit­i­cal leader se­cur­ing Is­rael’s in­ter­ests on the in­ter­na­tional stage.

With Barack Obama gone, he hopes the Pales­tinian is­sue will no longer over­shadow his diplo­macy, and he can fo­cus on build­ing a grand al­liance against Iran and singing the praises of the Startup Na­tion.

But he still has a gov­ern­ment and a coali­tion to run and, back home, things are far from easy.

On Tues­day, the State Comp­trol­ler pub­lished his re­port on Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge in Sum­mer 2014. It was an un­wel­come re­minder that un­der his pre­mier­ship, Is­rael had fought its long­est war since 1949 — 51 days — and that it had been far from suc­cess­ful.

Mr Ne­tanyahu comes in for crit­i­cism in the re­port as hav­ing been in­de­ci­sive and not hav­ing ex­plored diplo­matic and mil­i­tary al­ter­na­tives to the ap­proach he took dur­ing the war.

He can take some com­fort from the fact that two ri­vals, both seen as fu­ture chal­lengers for his job — for­mer De­fence Min­is­ter Moshe Yaalon and for­mer IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz — are dealt with much more harshly in the re­port. This has re­duced the crit­i­cism over his role, but it has boosted an­other ri­val.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett, who as a mem­ber of the Se­cu­rity Cab­i­net clashed with Gen­er­als Gantz and Yaalon dur­ing the Gaza war, de­mand­ing swift and de­ci­sive ac­tion against the Ha­mas tun­nels, has been com­pletely vin­di­cated in the re­port.

An­other se­nior min­is­ter who was crit­i­cal of the op­er­a­tion and is now wait­ing on the side­lines is Gideon Saar, one of the most pop­u­lar fig­ures in the Likud, who took a break from pol­i­tics in Septem­ber 2014 and is now send­ing out sig­nals that he may make a comeback. Like ev­ery­one else in Is­raeli pol­i­tics, they are wait­ing for one very un­pre­dictable man.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Avichai Men­del­blitt has been di­rect­ing the three in­ves­ti­ga­tions that could con­ceiv­ably re­sult in an in­dict­ment of the prime min­is­ter. While ev­ery day brings new leaks from the in­ves­ti­ga­tions and Mr Ne­tanyahu’s predica­ment seems ever murkier, there still is no smok­ing gun. There is no doubt by now that he and his wife re­ceived ex­pen­sive gifts from bil­lion­aires, but did they con­sti­tute bribes? Did Mr Ne­tanyahu’s dis­cus­sions with Ye­diot Ahronoth pub­lisher on lim­it­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of the pro-Bibi Is­rael Hayom in­clude the of­fer of a bribe? Was the prime min­is­ter ac­tu­ally in­volved in the award of mul­ti­mil­lion con­tracts to a Ger­man ship­yard dur­ing which se­nior Is­raeli of­fi­cials may have re­ceived kick­backs? At­tor­ney Gen­eral Men­del­blitt will have to an­swer these ques­tions with an in­dict­ment or by clos­ing the case. Ei­ther way, it is a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion with na­tional im­pli­ca­tions and there will be in­tense pub­lic crit­i­cism of ei­ther choice.

One se­nior min­is­ter pre­dicted this week that should the prime min­is­ter try to serve while un­der an in­dict­ment, all hell would break lose and the coali­tion may not sur­vive. Sober­ing thoughts for the states­man at 30,000ft.

If Is­rael’s PM is in­dicted, all hell could break loose’


Pro­test­ers hold up an­ti­semitic banners dur­ing Ne­tanyahu’s visit to Aus­tralia


Suc­cess­ful world tour: Ne­tanyahu

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