The security detail of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has been boosted in recent weeks, Israeli television reported Friday, as he weighs whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of corruption probes.
The decision to provide Mandelblit with additional security was made after an assessment by the Israel Police and Justice Ministry in light of intelligence information they possessed, Channel 10 news said.
It did not detail the intelligence or if there were specific threats.
Mandelblit was first given a bodyguard two years ago, according to the network, due to weekly protests by left-wing demonstrators outside his home calling for him to press charges against Netanyahu.
The report came a day after it emerged that the gravestone of Mandelblit’s father was vandalized earlier this month, sparking condemnation from Israeli leaders and calls for a swift probe by police.
The decision to boost security for Mandelblit was taken prior to this incident, the TV report said, adding that a further assessment about security for the attorney general would be held in the next few days.
Ephraim Ehrlich, a former police commander and friend of the Mandelblit family, said Friday it was he who informed media outlets about the vandalism.
“Every year we visit his [Baruch Mandelblit’s] grave and 10 days ago I was in the cemetery and saw what was done to the tombstone. There were a few friends and family and we were shocked the tombstone was destroyed,” Ehrlich told Hadashot TV news in an interview.
Ehrlich said Mandelblit asked friends not to publicize the incident, but he decided to go public with the vandalism after a report Thursday in the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily that quoted a source in the prime minister’s Likud party warning of a “merciless” attack on Mandelblit if he were to indict Netanyahu before elections in April.
Some versions of the same story published by Israel Hayom attributed the comments not to a senior Likud source but to Netanyahu himself. The prime minister denied making the remarks.
“I was shocked by the reported threats toward the attorney general,” he said.
Netanyahu’s lawyer later sent a letter to Mandelblit, calling the Israel Hayom report “unfounded” and maintaining that the prime minister never made such remarks, Hadashot reported.
Ehrlich decided to come forward after hearing Netanyahu question the timing of the reports on the attack on Mandelblit’s father’s grave. “It was all me. The blame is mine,” Ehrlich said.
Responding to a reporter’s question about the vandalism late Thursday as he took off for Brazil, Netanyahu had hinted that the timing of TV news reports on the incident was politically motivated.
Netanyahu said that as soon as he saw TV reports earlier Thursday about the incident, he immediately called Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to make sure the police would investigate, but was told it was already being probed and had been discovered 10 days earlier.
“What interests me is the timing of the report tonight, after the defamatory headlines attributed to me,” he said.
Netanyahu and his supporters have regularly accused the media of being in cahoots with police in trying to oust him from power.
Immediately following the TV reports Thursday, Netanyahu had quickly spoken out against the vandalism as “a shocking act that should be unequivocally condemned.”
Others in Netanyahu’s governing coalition also condemned the incident.
From the opposition, politicians accused Netanyahu of fostering a climate of hatred against the attorney general and law enforcement.
Police have recommended Netanyahu be indicted in each of the three probes against him. Of those cases, the one known as Case 4000 is considered by the State Prosecutor’s Office to be the most serious, according to television reports.
In that case, Netanyahu is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.
The prosecutor’s office last week told Mandelblit the allegations constituted “a clear case of bribery,” according to Hadashot TV news. Recommendations for bribery charges were also made in the cases known as 1000 and 2000, though those were seen as less clear-cut, according to the report.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009, has denied wrongdoing and portrays the cases as part of a conspiracy against him encompassing left-wing activists, the media and law enforcement officials.