Arab MK: PM provoked Syria escalation to distract from corruption probes

Arab MK: PM provoked Syria escalation to distract from corruption probes

Other opposition lawmakers reject Aida Touma-Sliman’s comments as ‘conspiracy theories,’ say Israeli response to Iranian drone was justified

Arab Joint List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman (Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Arab Joint List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman (Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A lawmaker from the Joint (Arab) List accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of provoking Saturday’s escalation on Israel’s northern border in order to “distract” from growing corruption probes against him.

“Netanyahu and his government are submerged up to their necks in corruption affairs, on the eve of the publication of the [police] recommendations,” said Aida Touma-Sliman in a statement.

“Netanyahu is willing to instigate a regional war in which the peoples of the region will pay a heavy price just for his political survival,” she added.

The comments were in reference to a large scale Israeli strike of dozens of targets in Syria after an Iranian drone originating from the war-torn country was shot down over Israeli territory, and an Israeli fighter jet was downed by Syrian air defenses.

A picture taken in the northern Israeli kibbutz of Harduf on February 10, 2018, shows the remains of an Israeli F-16 that crashed after coming under fire by Syrian air defenses. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

The confrontation was the most serious between Israel and Iran since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011.

Syria and Iran have claimed that the drone did not cross over into Israel and have accused Israel of “lies.”

Fellow opposition lawmakers rejected remarks such as those made by Touma-Sliman as “conspiracy theories.”

Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon seen during a finance committee meeting at the Knesset on September 11, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“The conspiracy theories that are now running, according to which Netanyahu is making war in order to divert attention from his investigations, are baseless and superfluous,” Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon tweeted.

“Netanyahu is a cynic, but he is not a comic villain, and he certainly did not organize the downing of an Israeli plane just to reject the police recommendations. These claims are insulting and outrageous,” she concluded.

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich tweeted: “The attack in Syria was justified and necessary. It is absurd to think that we would be satisfied with only downing the Iranian UAV as if it were a routine incident.”

“I do not suspect it is related to the investigations,” she added before clarifying that she did not think Netanyahu was fit to remain in office regardless, given his conduct throughout the investigations.

Incoming Israeli Chief of Police Roni Alsheich seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony for his appointment, held at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

On Tuesday, a report by Hadashot TV said police are set to recommend pressing bribery charges against Netanyahu next week. Hebrew-language media reported the following day that senior police officials are in unanimous agreement on the matter, and that a “final” discussion on the investigation has been held. Once the recommendations are filed, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit must decide whether an indictment is warranted, a process that could take months.

On Friday, Netanyahu launched a fresh attack on police officers investigating him, saying a top cop should have withdrawn from the corruption probes.

Writing on Facebook, the prime minister said the outgoing head of the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, Maj. Gen. Roni Rittman, should have recused himself from the investigation after leaked emails suggested law enforcement suspected the prime minister was surreptitiously working to thwart the criminal investigations.

Head of the Lahav 433 police anti-corruption unit Roni Rittman, arrives at the Police Investigation Department, Jerusalem, December, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“When the police believe such outlandish and false claims that the prime minister is working against them personally and sent investigators against them, how can they investigate him and file recommendations in an objective way?” Netanyahu wrote.

The attack was sparked by an interview given by Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich in which he said that officers investigating Netanyahu had been followed and put under pressure.

Netanyahu is being investigated in two corruption cases.

In so-called Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

The prime minister denies any wrongdoing.

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