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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.

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
11 mins ago - Sports

MLB falls out favor with Republicans

Expand chart
Data: Morning Consult; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

MLB is the latest sports league to fall out of favor with Republicans following its decision to pull the All-Star Game out of Atlanta.

By the numbers: In mid-March, MLB's net favorability rating among Republicans was 47%, the highest of the four major U.S. sports leagues. Since then, it has plummeted to 12%, dropping the league below the NFL and NHL, according to new data from Morning Consult.

25 mins ago - World

Blinken makes unannounced trip to Afghanistan to sell troop withdrawal

Photo: CARLOS BARRIA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Thursday to meet with the nation's president, Ashraf Ghani, and Abdullah Abdullah, who is representing the Taliban in negotiations, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Blinken sought to reassure the pair that the U.S. will maintain support for the country, despite President Biden's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan starting May 1 and concluding in full by Sept. 11.

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