Pres­sure mounts on Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY LOVEDAY MOR­RIS loveday.mor­ris@wash­post.com

jerusalem — Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu is known for be­ing a po­lit­i­cal sur­vivor, but the rev­e­la­tion this past week that a for­mer top aide will tes­tify against him has led to spec­u­la­tion that his in­dict­ment in re­la­tion to al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion is in­creas­ingly in­evitable.

Ari Harow, who served as Ne­tanyahu’s chief of staff, will turn state’s wit­ness in two probes into the premier, Is­raeli po­lice said Fri­day. Ne­tanyahu has re­peat­edly de­nied any wrong­do­ing.

The de­tails of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions — from the Cuban cigars and other lav­ish gifts Ne­tanyahu is al­leged to have re­ceived from prom­i­nent busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives to al­le­ga­tions of col­lu­sion with Is­rael’s dom­i­nant news­pa­per for fa­vor­able news cov­er­age — have gripped Is­rael in re­cent months. Harow’s agree­ment to tes­tify, though, sig­nif­i­cantly ramps up pres­sure on the premier, now serv­ing his fourth term.

The agree­ment “has one vir­tu­ally ir­re­versible im­pli­ca­tion: an in­dict­ment against Ne­tanyahu is com­ing,” an anal­y­sis in Is­rael’s daily Haaretz said Satur­day, as the Is­raeli press mulled whether it could mark the end for his premier­ship.

The devel­op­ment was the cul­mi­na­tion of a tur­bu­lent week for Ne­tanyahu, who was al­ready fac­ing crit­i­cism for his han­dling of a stand­off with Pales­tinian wor­shipers over metal de­tec­tors in­stalled at the al-Aqsa Mosque com­pound in Jerusalem’s Old City.

On Wed­nes­day, his wife, Sara, was ques­tioned by po­lice in re­la­tion to the mis­use of funds al­lo­cated to the prime min­is­ter’s res­i­dence. The next day the prime min­is­ter was named as a sus­pect in the in­ves­ti­ga­tions into bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the two cases.

Mean­while, his el­dest son caused a furor as he lashed out at a web­site that crit­i­cized his lav­ish life­style with a Face­book post signed off with emoji of a raised mid­dle fin­ger and a pile of ex­cre­ment.

Harow served as Ne­tanyahu's bureau chief for two years be­gin­ning in 2008, re­turn­ing in 2014 as his chief of staff. Ac­cord­ing to Is­raeli me­dia re­ports, it was Harow who recorded con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Ne­tanyahu and Arnon Mozes, the pub­lisher of the daily Ye­dioth Ahronoth, ne­go­ti­at­ing cov­er­age.

In ex­change for giv­ing ev­i­dence, the U.S.-born Harow will avoid jail time in a sep­a­rate case of fraud and breach of trust. In­stead he will do com­mu­nity ser­vice and pay a fine of 700,000 shekels ($190,000), ac­cord­ing to the po­lice state­ment.

While his ev­i­dence is likely to strengthen the cases against the prime min­is­ter, just how damn­ing Harow’s tes­ti­mony will be is un­clear. A gag or­der has been im­posed on the in­for­ma­tion Harow pro­vided un­der in­ter­ro­ga­tion.

Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice has dis­missed the al­le­ga­tions against him as po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

“We com­pletely re­ject the un­founded claims made against the prime min­is­ter,” it said in a state­ment. “The cam­paign to change the gov­ern­ment is un­der­way, but it is des­tined to fail, for a sim­ple rea­son: there won’t be any­thing be­cause there was noth­ing.”

Al­though he may be fac­ing the most se­ri­ous cri­sis of his ten­ure, Ne­tanyahu, who has held the of­fice for more than a decade in to­tal, has so far man­aged to out­last ev­ery prime min­is­ter other than David Ben-Gu­rion. But there have been mount­ing calls from Is­raeli politi­cians for him to step down if he is charged.

Mickey Rosen­thal, a Knes­set mem­ber with the Zion­ist Union, told an Is­raeli ra­dio sta­tion on Fri­day that the prime min­is­ter should de­clare him­self “tem­po­rar­ily in­ca­pac­i­tated” while the in­ves­ti­ga­tion against him is con­ducted.

One poll showed that three­quar­ters of Is­raelis be­lieved that Ne­tanyahu had “sur­ren­dered” over the de­ci­sion to re­move metal de­tec­tors from the en­trance to the mosque site, which is holy to both Mus­lims and Jews, to whom it is known as the Tem­ple Mount.

In what has been per­ceived as an at­tempt to re­build his pop­u­lar­ity among right-wing vot­ers, Ne­tanyahu an­nounced his sup­port Wed­nes­day for the “Greater Jerusalem” bill, which would ef­fec­tively an­nex sev­eral West Bank set­tle­ments. The next day he par­tic­i­pated in a cer­e­mony to lay the foun­da­tion stones for 1,000 new units at one of the set­tle­ments, which are con­sid­ered il­le­gal by most of the international com­mu­nity.

But no amount of po­lit­i­cal ma­neu­ver­ing is likely to dis­tract from the mount­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of im­pro­pri­ety by the premier and his in­ner cir­cle. A third cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion is look­ing into al­le­ga­tions of bribery among his close as­so­ciates re­lated to a $2 bil­lion sub­ma­rine deal with Ger­many.

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