Netanyahu must breathed a sigh of relief then, and again this week. Still, he cannot relax. Many Israelis feel cheated in this affair, prompting a wave of protests that culminated this week when a long convoy of cars and trucks carrying cardboard mockups of submarines gathered from northern and southern Israel and converged in Jerusalem. The Movement for Quality Government in Israel has petitioned the Supreme Court demanding that Netanyahu be questioned in the case, which also involves Israeli agreement for Germany to sell submarines to Egypt. Dozens of shocking affidavits by senior defense establishment officials were appended to the petition. Reserve generals, senior officers and people involved in the submarine acquisition described in detail heavy pressure exerted by the prime minister’s office to buy the vessels from Thyssenkrupp and to scrap an international tender for the purchase of large naval patrol boats and buy them directly from the same conglomerate instead.
The Supreme Court will deliberate on the petition this month. On Oct. 15, Mandelblit presented his response to the petition, explaining why Netanyahu had not been charged. Mandelblit also announced that he would not probe Netanyahu’s $600,000 stock purchase from SeaDrift, a steelmaker controlled by Milikowsky (which apparently also supplies some products to Thyssenkrupp). Netanyahu sold the stock at a huge profit despite the company’s failing performance.
While Mandelblit conceded that Netanyahu benefited significantly from the Milikowsky transaction, he also claimed that there was an insufficient evidentiary basis for a criminal investigation. He concluded that Netanyahu was unaware of the conflict of interest and that the stock sale constituted a forbidden benefit.
The attorney general’s decisions have prompted harsh public criticism on the part of Netanyahu’s opponents, but also tremendous public glee from his supporters. Mandelblit himself was at the center of a new scandal that erupted this week involving secret recordings of conversations he conducted a few years ago with the powerful head of the Israel Bar Association, Efi Nave, who has since been forced to resign and has been indicted on charges of fraud and influence peddling.
Netanyahu’s people have been conducting a concerted campaign in recent months against Mandelblit’s credibility in an effort to prove that the indictments filed against the prime minister were politically motivated or that he was blackmailed by former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan into framing Netanyahu. While all these conspiracy theories are clumsy, they are further unsettling Israel. The attorney general is in the eye of a perfect storm, with half the Israeli public convinced he has framed Netanyahu to unseat him and the other half that he is actually in cahoots with Netanyahu and his plots, as proven by his decision this week to drop the significant investigations and stop with the indictments on negligible charges that will not suffice to send him to jail.
The Netanyahu era is much closer to its end than its beginning, most of his acolytes would agree. It is already clear that once Netanyahu descends from the political stage, the state will have to rehabilitate the ruins he left of the institutions of state.
For now, Netanyahu can breathe easy on the submarine front. Had he been indicted in that affair, his name would have been tainted forever as a traitor and his legacy besmirched. As long as he manages to distance himself from it, Netanyahu can continue to fight for his place in history and also for the prime minister’s seat, which he has no intention of giving up.