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Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Pool, Gali Tibbon/Getty Images

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz may have put the last nail in the coffin of Israel's power-sharing government when he formed an inquiry panel to probe the "submarine affair," a scandal that has ensnared some of Netanyahu's close advisers and confidants.

Why it matters: For Netanyahu, this is a declaration of war by his coalition partner. The inquiry could lead to the conclusion that Netanyahu mishandled sensitive national security matters and cause him major political damage.

  • In an extreme scenario, it could lead to the reopening of a police investigation against him.

The backstory: The scandal involves the purchase in 2016 of submarines and warships from a German company. An investigation into alleged corruption connected to the deal has already led to indictments against Netanyahu allies, but the prime minister has not been investigated as a suspect.

  • Still, serious questions were raised about his decision-making around the two deals, which were worth billions of dollars and involved one of Israel’s most sensitive weapon systems that, according to foreign press reports, can carry nuclear weapons.
  • Under his authority as defense minister, Gantz formed a panel to investigate those decisions.

How it happened: Gantz promised such an inquiry while campaigning against Netanyahu but shelved the initiative after forming a government with him.

  • Under pressure from within his party, and increasingly confident that Netanyahu plans to renege on the deal that would see them switch jobs next year, Gantz made his move.
  • He has faced sharp criticism from his base for forming a government with Netanyahu in the first place, and decided to cut his losses before new elections are called in the next four weeks.

What's next: The deadline for passing a budget and preventing elections is Dec. 23, but many inside Gantz’s party are pressing him to vote with the opposition in favor of dissolving the Knesset as early as next week.

  • Gantz believes Netanyahu won't pass a budget that locks in the government long enough for him to become prime minister.
  • If the Knesset dissolves in the next four weeks, elections are expected in March 2021.
  • Gantz gave the inquiry panel a four-month deadline, with an unstated goal of publishing the conclusions days before the new elections.

New polls published on Tuesday showed that even though Netanyahu’s favorability plummeted during the COVID-19 crisis, he still has the best chance of forming a government if new elections are called.

  • The polls showed Netanyahu's right-wing bloc winning between 64 and 68 seats, above the 61 needed for a majority.

The Bibi Barometer is a weekly feature of our Axios from Tel Aviv newsletter. Sign up.

Go deeper

Jan 27, 2021 - World

Israel's COVID crisis deepens even as the vaccination rate climbs

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters clash with security forces over lockdown enforcement Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped to declare victory over the pandemic before the elections on March 23, but new fast-spreading variants of COVID-19 have dashed those hopes.

Why it matters: Netanyahu's main political vulnerability is his handling of the pandemic. He has acknowledged that his poll numbers will be directly connected to the rates of vaccinations, new infections and deaths, as well as his ability to reopen the economy.

Trump can't quit mainstream media

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are interviewed by Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" in September. Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty Images

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa issued a rebuttal on Friday to a statement by former President Donald Trump that misrepresented their reporting — and once again showed the 45th president's thin skin about mainstream media.

Driving the news: "Former President Trump said ... our book, 'Peril,' implied that he was planning to go to war with China," the statement begins. "[W]e report that Chairman of Joint Chiefs Mark Milley 'believed that Trump did not want a war' before or after the 2020 election."

NY declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron COVID variant

Governor Kathy Hochul makes an announcement about a new plan transforming Penn Station on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency amid rising COVID-19 cases and the newly-identified Omicron variant of the virus.

Driving the news: The declaration enables the state to acquire supplies to fight a potential surge in cases, increase hospital capacity and combat potential staff shortages, NBC's local affiliate reports.

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