Why you should care
Because another world power could soon lose its longtime leader.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, is besieged by scandal and corruption charges on multiple fronts. This week, it was revealed that Shlomo Filber, a longtime confidant and the director general of Israel’s Communications Ministry, has agreed to testify. He will be a government witness against Netanyahu regarding allegations he provided favors to Israel’s largest telecommunications company, Bezeq, in exchange for favorable coverage in the company’s online newspaper.
Why does it matter? The prime minister denies all charges, but as new revelations and corruption charges continue to mount, many Israelis are growing skeptical that even the politically robust Netanyahu, now awaiting potential criminal indictment, can withstand the onslaught. Others worry that any prolonged attempt by Netanyahu to cling to power could put greater strain on an already polarized nation and leave it weakened in foreign affairs.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
The list is long. Two corruption cases, launched last year, directly involve Netanyahu: the Bezeq scandal and another one in which he is accused of accepting nearly $300,000 in gifts — including Champagne and cigars — from a Hollywood tycoon seeking a tax break in Israel. In addition, the prime minister has been linked to two more cases involving defense contracts and the illegal enrichment of Bezeq. And that’s on top of his extravagant spending, like a 2013 allegation that he dropped $27,000 of state money on pistachio ice cream.
But can he power through? Having won multiple elections and escaped trouble before, Netanyahu has long been known as a shrewd political operator. It’s unclear whether he’ll be able to emerge from his latest quagmire, but any actual indictment may be months away, pending a hearing with his lawyers and a decision by the attorney general. With roughly half of Israelis still supporting him in polls, Netanyahu has given indications that he’s unlikely to resign and will instead face the court if indicted.
Wagging the drone? Netanyahu’s long been accused of crying wolf about Iranian nuclear weapons. At the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, he held up a piece of what he claimed was an Iranian drone shot down over Israel and offered it back to Iran’s minister of foreign affairs, warning that Israel “will act without hesitation to defend ourselves.” Political opponents also accuse Netanyahu of launching recent airstrikes against Syria to distract from his political troubles.
The Trump playbook. The prime minister appears to have borrowed more than one page from the scandal management playbook of his good friend, U.S. President Donald Trump. Thus far, he has denied all charges and maintained a stubborn defiance, casting the investigations as a political and police conspiracy and an “obsessive, unprecedented witch hunt.” The cloud of scandal could also limit the impact of his visit to Washington next month to meet with Trump and speak at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.
WHAT TO READ
Netanyahu’s Long Goodbye, by Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz
“He may refuse to admit it to himself, but Netanyahu has embarked on his long goodbye.”
Netanyahu’s Shakespearean Tragedy, by Nahum Barnea in Ynet
“The fact that Netanyahu feels persecuted doesn’t mean he isn’t being persecuted.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Netanyahu’s speech at the Munich Security Conference
“Israel will not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck.”
Watch on Al Jazeera on YouTube:
HBO’s Last Night With John Oliver on Netanyahu’s Spending Habits
“The details of their spending are striking. Over the years, they’ve been accused of spending $1,700 of taxpayer money on scented candles.”
Watch on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Netanyahu insists that he alone will determine the manner and timing of his departure from office. But no Israeli prime minister has ever left office on their own terms. Four resigned, three lost elections, two were forced out by their party, one was murdered, one died of natural causes and one fell into a coma.