Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has reportedly been telling confidants that he has a growing suspicion that acting State Prosecutor Dan Eldad and Justice Minister Amir Ohana are bent on ousting him from his post, possibly with the help of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mandelblit had asked colleagues in the State Prosecutor’s Office to keep him in the loop after Eldad was appointed in February, a senior Justice Ministry official who heard Mandelblit express the concerns told Haaretz in a report published Monday.
The attorney general’s concerns about the acting prosecutor were aroused when Eldad quickly ordered the opening of a criminal probe into the Fifth Dimension firm — once headed by Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz — before even consulting the police body that had looked into the allegations against the company, the official was quoted as saying.
Further irking Mandelblit were what he deemed to be the uncharacteristically frequent meetings Eldad was having with Ohana, a close Netanyahu ally. So concerned had the attorney general — who indicted Netanyahu on corruption charges last November — become about those sit-downs that he began quizzing the state prosecutor on their content, comparing the answers received to the information he had been getting from colleagues briefed on those same conversations, the report said.
The attorney general’s suspicions intensified earlier this month when Eldad asked his office to reexamine an opinion it gave in support of keeping the so-called Harpaz Affair closed. Mandelblit was a suspect in the 2010 case but eventually was cleared of wrongdoing by the High Court of Justice.
Mandelblit told associates that he suspects Eldad leaked a recording to a Channel 13 reporter who subsequently petitioned the Central District Court to release all tapes from the Harpaz Affair.
According to the Haaretz report — which Mandelblit, Eldad and Ohana have all vehemently denied — Mandelblit decided to issue a letter to Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz expressing vehement opposition to extending Eldad’s tenure, after he was got wind of the details of the coalition agreement inked by Netanyahu and Gantz according to which the Likud leader is interested in keeping Eldad in his position for at least another six months.
The coalition agreement, which also grants Netanyahu veto power over the appointment of a permanent state prosecutor as well as Mandelblit’s successor, has led the latter to believe that the prime minister is also involved in Eldad and Ohana’s apparent efforts to oust him, the report said.
Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases — as well as bribery in one of them — that center on accusations he received illegal gifts and traded political favors for positive news coverage.
He denies wrongdoing and has dismissed the charges against him as a conspiracy by law enforcement, the media and political rivals to force him from office.
His trial is set to open on May 24.
Eldad was appointed interim state prosecutor for a temporary three-month period by Ohana — who is himself serving in an acting capacity due to the interim status of the government — after former state attorney Shai Nitzan concluded his five-year term in December and after Ohana’s previous candidate was rejected by Mandelblit.
Mandelblit also initially opposed Eldad’s appointment, which Ohana made in spite of his reservations, but eventually acceded to it.
Eldad’s appointment is to expire on May 1, but Ohana earlier this month asked Hershkowitz to extend it by an additional three months since a new government has not yet been formed.
In late February, several Hebrew media outlets revealed that Netanyahu may seek to dismiss the attorney general or to seriously discredit him after the election, which was held on March 2.
Haaretz reported at the time that emissaries for Netanyahu had been working to dig up dirt on Mandelblit — particularly on his part in the Harpaz affair.
The Kan public broadcaster gave credence to the story, reporting that Netanyahu was concerned about Mandelblit’s coming decisions on two critical issues: his eligibility to be tasked with forming a government after the election despite his upcoming trial, and whether to open a new investigation into Netanyahu over his alleged failure to disclose stock holdings in his cousin’s company. Kan said Mandelblit was leaning toward launching an investigation.
Any attempt by the prime minister to dismiss the attorney general who put him on trial would undoubtedly be brought before the High Court.
In the Harpaz Affair, a former IDF intelligence officer close to then-IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi produced a fake document purporting to be a public relations strategy for then-Southern Command chief Yoav Gallant’s campaign to become the next chief of staff.
The fake document recommended a smear campaign against Gallant’s rivals, including then-deputy chief of staff Benny Gantz, who would go on to be appointed Israel’s 20th IDF chief of staff in 2011 and later become Netanyahu’s chief rival for the premiership.
Mandelblit, who was the top military prosecutor at the time, was questioned under caution in June 2014, when he was already out of uniform and serving as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. Investigators suspected that Mandelblit may have helped Ashkenazi and his aides to hinder investigators by failing to tell them that Ashkenazi possessed the document — or indeed, that Ashkenazi was spreading it within the army and working to have it leaked to the press. He was eventually cleared.
Netanyahu went on to nominate Mandelblit as attorney general, with his appointment approved in January 2016.