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Netanyahu fights for political survival amid corruption cases

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Israeli police landed the most damaging blow yet on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday, after two years of investigations, recommending he and his wife be charged in a third corruption case.

Why it matters: These allegations are by far the most serious Netanyahu faces. The man who has dominated Israeli politics for a decade is now waging a battle for political survival.

With the investigations now over, there are two clocks ticking ...

  1. When will the attorney general make his decision on indicting Netanyahu? It will be close to impossible for him to close down all three cases.
  2. When will Netanyahu call for early elections? He wants to keep fighting the legal battle, and to do so from the prime minister's office after being strengthened by another election victory.

Catch up quick: The most painful hit yet for Netanyahu and his wife Sara stems from "Case 4000," concerning their relationship with Israel's leading telecommunications tycoon.

  • According to Sunday's police statement, Netanyahu, who at the time was also the telecom minister, allegedly gave Shaul Elovitz regulatory benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In return, Netanyahu and his wife were allegedly allowed to demand positive coverage from one of Israel's major news websites, owned by Elovitz.
  • Flashback: Police recommended charges in two other bribery cases in February. One involves Netanyahu allegedly taking "gifts" worth $200,000 from businessmen in return for promoting their interests (Case 1000). The other is an alleged bribe deal between Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Israel's largest newspaper (Case 2000).

Netanyahu's battle for survival has many similarities to Donald Trump's outrage-fueled fight against special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation:

  • While Trump has Mueller, Netanyahu's nemesis over the last two years was Israeli chief of police Roni Alsheikh. Alsheikh is a former deputy director of the Shin Bet security agency and was picked for the top police job by Netanyahu who, according to his associates, believed Alsheikh would be easier to control. In fact, Alsheikh aggressively pursued the allegations against Netanyahu.
  • Like Trump, Netanyahu has accused the police and media of carrying out a “witch hunt” against him. He has aggressively attacked the press and denounced leaks and came up with a slogan to rouse supporters at political rallies and on Twitter: "There will be nothing because there is nothing." Trump has used similar language.
  • Like Trump, Netanyahu is counting on his attorney general. He appointed Avichai Mandelblit, a former member of his Cabinet, to the post in 2016. Mandelblit's critics claim he’s going soft on Netanyahu and dragging his feet on the corruption cases.

What's next: There had been speculation Netanyahu would try to cut a deal with the attorney general: resignation from the prime minister's job in return for the closing of his three legal cases. But a speech last night in which Netanyahu harshly attacked the police indicates he's not going down that road.

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