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Is Netanyahu Ready to Inflame War to Escape His Legal Troubles?
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The decision to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on three separate criminal counts pushes the country’s already unprecedented electoral stalemate into the entirely uncharted territory of a constitutional crisis.

There is no legal precedent for a sitting prime minister facing a trial – in Netanyahu’s case, for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was charged with corruption in 2009 but only after he had resigned from office.

Israeli commentators are already warning of the possibility of civil war if, as seems likely, Netanyahu decides to whip up his far-right supporters into a frenzy of outrage. After a decade in power, he has developed an almost cult-like status among sections of the public.

He called for mass protests in Tel Aviv by supporters on Tuesday night under the banner “Stop the coup”.

The honorable thing would be for Netanyahu to step down quickly, given that the two elections he fought this year ended in deadlock. Both were seen primarily as plebiscites on his continuing rule.

He is now the country’s caretaker prime minister, in place until either a new government can be formed or an unprecedented third election is held.

His departure would end months of governmental near-paralysis. The path would then be clear for a successor from his Likud party to negotiate a deal on a right-wing unity government with rival Benny Gantz, a former army general.

Gantz’s Blue and White party has made it a point of principle not to forge an alliance with Netanyahu.

Previous experience, however, suggests that Netanyahu might prefer to tear the house down rather than go quietly. If he is allowed to press ahead with another election in March, he is likely to stoke new levels of incitement against his supposed enemies.

Until now, the main target of his venom has been a predictable one.

During the April and September campaigns, he railed relentlessly against the fifth of Israel’s citizenry who are Palestinian as well as their elected representatives in the Joint List, the third largest faction in the Knesset.

Shortly before last Thursday’s indictment was announced, Netanyahu was at it again, holding an “emergency conference”. He told supporters that a minority government led by Gantz and propped up from outside by the Joint List would be a “historic national attack on Israel”. The Palestinian minority’s MPs, he said, “want to destroy the country”.

Such a government, he added, would be an outcome “they will celebrate in Tehran, in Ramallah and in Gaza, as they do after every terror attack”.

This repeated scaremongering had an obvious goal: rallying the Jewish public to vote for his far-right, now overtly anti-Arab coalition. The hope was that he would win an outright majority and could then force through legislation conferring on him immunity from prosecution.

Now he appears to have run out of time. After three years of investigations and much foot-dragging, the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, has finally charged him.

According to the Israeli media, Netanyahu turned down opportunities for a plea bargain that would have seen him resign in return for avoiding jail time.

According to the most serious allegation, he is accused of granting media tycoon Shaul Elovich benefits worth \$500 million in exchange for favourable coverage.

Weighed against the crimes he and other Israeli leaders have perpetrated over many decades against the Palestinians in the occupied territories, the offences he is indicted for seem relatively minor.

Nonetheless, if found guilty, Netanyahu faces a substantial prison sentence of up to 10 years. That makes the stakes high.

All the signs now are that he will switch his main target from Israel’s Palestinian minority to the legal authorities pursuing him.

His first response to the indictment was to accuse the police and state prosecutors of an “attempted coup”, claiming they had fabricated the evidence to “frame” him. “The time has come to investigate the investigators,” he urged.

As one Blue and White official told the veteran Israeli reporter Ben Caspit: “Netanyahu will not hesitate to sic [unleash] his supporters on those institutions of government that represent the rule of law. He has no inhibitions.”

Technically the law allows a prime minister to continue serving while under indictment and before a trial, which is still many months away. Assuming Netanyahu refuses to resign, the courts will have to rule on whether this privilege extends to a caretaker leader unable to form a new government.

Netanyahu is therefore likely to focus his attention on intimidating the supreme court, already cowed by a decade of tongue-lashing from the Israeli right. Critics unfairly accuse the court of being a bastion of liberalism.

But bigger dangers may lie ahead. Netanyahu needs to keep his own Likud party in line. If its members sense he is finished, there could be a rapid collapse of support and moves towards an attempt to overthrow him.

The first hints of trouble emerged on Saturday when Gideon Saar, Netanyahu’s most likely challenger in Likud, accused him of “creating an atmosphere of chaos” by denigrating the legal authorities. On Tuesday he went further calling on Netanyahu to quit.

After the failure by both Gantz and Netanyahu to put together a coalition, the task was passed last week to parliament. Its members have just over a fortnight left to see whether one of their number can rally a majority of MPs.

This brief window could provide an opportunity for Saar to move against Netanyahu. On Sunday he submitted an official request for the Likud party to hold a snap leadership race.

Observers fear that to allay this danger, Netanyahu might consider not only inflaming his base but also setting the region alight with a conflict to rally the rest of the public to his side and make his removal impossible.

In fact, the Israeli media reported that shortly before September’s election, he had tried to pull precisely such a stunt, preparing a war on Gaza to justify postponing the ballot.

He was stopped at the last minute by Mandelblit, who realised that the cabinet had been misled into approving military action. Netanyahu had reportedly concealed from them the fact that the military command was opposed.

In recent weeks, Netanyahu has stoked severe tensions with Gaza by assassinating Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu Al Atta. Last week he launched airstrikes on Iranian positions in Syria.

When Olmert was being investigated for corruption in 2008, Netanyahu sagely warned of the dangerous confusion of interests that might result. “He will make decisions based on his own interests of political survivability rather than the national interest,” he said.

And that is precisely the reason why many in Israel are keen to see the back of Netanyahu – in case his instinct for political survival trumps the interests of stability in the region.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.


Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His books include “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is

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  1. Here is an article that clearly shows how the United States and Israel are using their power in the United Nations to block key resolutions that could potentially lead to peace in the Middle East:

    Given this information, it is clear that Washington has mistaken itself as a force for good in the world.

    • Replies: @Rev. Spooner
  2. @Sally Snyder

    Washington has Not mistaken itself as a force for good in the world. Washington is occupied territory.

    • Agree: follyofwar
  3. A123 says:

    There is little chance of “inflaming war”. Both Gantz and Netanyahu have the same policies, so there is no passion to drive a fight. Could the population be sufficiently “inflamed” to finish writing a constitution?

    The charges are quite weak. In the U.S., a jury would come back with “Not Guilty”. Due to the structural problems with the Israeli judiciary, his odds are not as certain but are still very good. This could still be closed out by negotiating down to civil fines instead of criminal charges.

    Enough Knesset members could still leave B&W to avoid new elections. However, it looks like a 3rd round will be required.

    The math shows no credible B&W way forward unless they are willing to publicly embrace the Joint Muslim List as equal partners. Even if it never shows up on a sign, the underlying theme will be: A vote for Gantz is a vote for a 4th round of elections. It seems likely that Likud will win the ~40 seats they need to form a government without Gantz or Avigdor.


    • Replies: @Art
  4. Tragically, leaders do plunge themselves into destructive wars just to retain power. It is power that has brought us two world wars in the last hundred years, and is about to bring us a third.

  5. Art says:

    In fact, the Israeli media reported that shortly before September’s election, he had tried to pull precisely such a stunt, preparing a war on Gaza to justify postponing the ballot.

    He was stopped at the last minute by Mandelblit, who realised that the cabinet had been misled into approving military action. Netanyahu had reportedly concealed from them the fact that the military command was opposed.

    What a total scumbag! That is the leader of all the Jews.

    Netanyahu did attack Gaza in December of 2008 – with the sole political purpose of putting new president Obama, on notice that he can cause him problems anytime he wants too.

    Think Peace — Do No Harm — Art

  6. Art says:

    Enough Knesset members could still leave B&W to avoid new elections. However, it looks like a 3rd round will be required.

    Bla – bla – bla – yada – yada – yada – who cares?

    Jew cultural dysfunctionality is more than apparent – Israel cannot even hold a successful election. The only thing that the Israelis can agree on is killing Palestinians.

    The Israeli Jews will rent you a chair, so that you can watch in comfort, the sniper killing of Gaza children. Such a deal!

    Do No Harm

    • Replies: @A123
  7. A123 says:


    Your hypocrisy is showing.

    Israel cannot even hold a successful election.

    You throw shade at Israeli elections, but your Muslim side is much worse. The PA leadership is so corrupt they refuse to hold elections. Abbas is entering the 15th year of his 4 year term in office.

    I think we can safely say that the Israeli government, unlike the PA, will not remain in limbo for 9+ years.

    The Israeli Jews will rent you a chair,

    Which is much less harmful than Islamic brutality.

    If you want “No Harm”, why do you support paying a bounty for “Intentionally Harming” defenseless civilians? As long as the forces of Islam intentionally target children, security must remain tight.

    PEACE 😇

    • Replies: @anon
  8. tumi says:

    Hello Inverted Piece !!

    Don’t like someone ,just call him a terrorist.

    I dont like Israeli. Shall I call them terrorist ? make nice power point and ask some newspaper to publish it for you to quote?
    Opps! your answer I can predict .Its n to only Israeli news papers . you say . But American Canadian and British and Kenyan – they all .

    So I ask other countries’s media to describe average Israeli as terrorist. So what does the Jew do? He tells his press contacts : explain it as fear of oil embargo or fear of muslim wrath or fear of muslim vote or fear of Iran or love of Hitler.

    Now let’s move over and forget the above for a moment .

    Question is not that Netanhuuu was targeted ( he was possibly ) Question is do we allow a rat like him to seek refuge and safety by orchestrating a racist violent innuendo filled narrative against the non Gaza no Westbank Arab who some Jew say get same right as those of the rest of the Israelis . Question is – do we see a pattern . We see Olmert and now Nutanhoooo. So does the Israeli system of democracy allow this immoral Nazi like escape hatch? It does. Has it allowed it before ? I am sure it has . That is the open book on early Zionism’s attitude logic reasoning about displacing Arab from Palestine.
    Netanhooo is doing what other Jewish prophets like Herzl Wise Silver Ben Gurion Shareett Abba Eban and NYT’s Tom Friedman have done . Different degree and different magnitude . But the rotten in the core .

  9. anon[199] • Disclaimer says:

    1- of vehicles vandalized in suspected hate crime in Arab Israeli town
    Residents of Jaljulia demand through investigation after tires slashed, anti-assimilation messages in Hebrew scrawled on vehicles; police open hate crimes probe

    2- IDF razes West Bank homes of suspects in killing of Dvir Sorek
    Military says structures demolished in Beit Kahil, month after suspects indicted on terror charges in August murder of student; Bennett: Terrorists will pay heavy price

    1- Anti-assimilation is worse than current antisemitism but you can’t say that .Anti smetism leads to violence .Anti assimilation is leading to violence There is Dept of antismetism watch.There should be department of anti-assimilation watch . Corbyn is excoriated for hanging around anti semite without proof
    Trump GOP Democrats hobnob with leaders like Netanyahu Grantz Liberman Bennet who opposes assimilation entourage violence but no one dares say a word.

    2 No how many years for writing bad stuff on the stones in the Jewish graveyards ? How many these Israeli will get?

    3 – IDF labels it as structure not house or home. May be jewish entity will be called just a structure to be demolished one day. It is easier that way IDF is also saying to the settlers :” Don’t engage in violence We will do it ”

  10. From what I’ve read about Benjamin Netanyahu, he might just start a war in order to duck out of a dental appointment. He seems just that self absorbed. Wondering what a lunatic like Netanyahu might do could cause someone to have a breakdown.

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