On Saturday night, just before the news show was about to deliver the weather forecast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walked into the News 12 studio and announced that he was ready to answer any question.
According to the PM’s entourage, the decision to be interviewed was entirely spontaneous – the Netanyahu convoy was already on its way to Ben-Gurion Airport, stopped abruptly and turned back to the studio. Apparently, the repeated charges against him by his rivals at Blue and White, especially former DM Moshe Ya’alon, on case 3000 – the purchase of submarines from ThyssenKrupp against the Defense Ministry’s opinion, and the PM’s permission for ThyssenKrupp to sell the same submarines to Egypt, allegedly behind the DM’s back – have pushed Netanyahu back against the wall. This despite the fact that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has already decided not to indict the prime minister on Case 3000.
It stands to reason that Netanyahu feared that without giving an effective explanation, he might end up wasting President Trump’s gift, recognition of Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan Heights, so that when Netanyahu returns from the US, the public debate would still be focused only on submarines, submarines and more submarines.
But several years of avoiding Face-the-Nation style, confrontational interviews have apparently cost Netanyahu some of his panache. Instead of speaking to in-house interviewers on his own TV channel, Bibi was facing Keren Marciano and Amit Segal, certainly among Israel’s top five journalists, and even though the PM had given them no time at all to prepare, they managed to knock him off his comfort zone a number of times. Without a doubt, snippets from the 35-minute interview can now be turned into effective anti-Netanyahu campaign ads.
With regard to his shares in Texas steel plant SeaDrift, which sold steel to ThyssenKrupp, Netanyahu focused mainly on his financial profit ($4 million over 4 years). But the problem was the clear conflict of interest Netanyahu overlooked when he continued to deal with the submarine purchases while the owner of SeaDrift, his cousin Natan Milikovsky, who had done him many favors in this good in all kinds of ways, continued to own SeaDrift.
Netanyahu being challenged on hiding the submarine sale from his DM and IDF Chief of Stafe
In the interview Netanyahu convinced very few Israelis that he hid his agreement to sell strategic submarines to Egypt from the defense minister and IDF chief of staff because “there are secrets that only a prime minister knows.” Come on. You can use the veil of “national security” to hide things from the press, but to hide them from the very stewards of national security?
The PM was clearly unconvincing on his intentions regarding the “French law,” should he be re-elected. This law provides the head of state absolute immunity from prosecution while in office, with the exception of murdering a puppy in the middle of Champs-Élysées. Bibi was at his least convincing part of the interview when he was claiming he hadn’t given it any thought, he believes he won’t go for it. Does anyone have any doubt that with a solid enough coalition, the French law could be the first business on Bibi’s cabinet agenda?
If I may dare to speculate, Netanyahu’s campaign advisers are probably telling him that he must not have another round with real journalists—stick with the home team instead, and do not, dear God, do not risk a television debate with Benny Gantz. The former IDF chief of staff may not be as eloquent as the PM, but he and his partners know where many of the skeletons are buried.