Mandelblit 'afraid' to probe PM in sub case, Gantz claims

Gantz on his Blue and White leadership partners: I’m not sure about any of them

In leaked recordings, PM candidate open to possibility of sitting in Netanyahu-led government prior to indictment hearing; he also suggests Mossad leaked phone hack story

From L to R: Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon, Israel Resilience leader Benny Gantz, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi on February 21, 2019. (Courtesy Israel Resilience)
From L to R: Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon, Israel Resilience leader Benny Gantz, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi on February 21, 2019. (Courtesy Israel Resilience)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said he is “not sure” about a single member of his party’s senior leadership, in a new batch of leaked recordings aired by Channel 13 on Sunday night.

The TV channel released a series of remarks made by the prime ministerial candidate on a host of issues, including his thoughts on his fellow party members, the possibility of joining a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and the performance of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in the corruption probe involving submarine purchases from Germany.

Channel 13 did not specify when the comments were made, but the recordings appeared to have been from the last several weeks.

On the remaining three members at the top of Blue and White’s list — Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi — Gantz was revealed to regard them with suspicion.

“I’m not sure about any of the three. I’m not sure about anyone,” the former IDF chief of staff is heard saying.

Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz in a Channel 12 interview, March 19, 2019 (Channel 12 news screenshot)

On Ashkenazi in particular, the Blue and White chairman was caught taking issue with an interview the No. 4 candidate gave to Channel 12 last month, in which he did not say outright that Gantz was the most suitable candidate from the party to serve as prime minister.

“I think he wasn’t right,” said Gantz of Ashkenazi’s response to a question about whether Gantz was the best candidate in the party for prime minister. “He should have said ‘Benny will be an excellent prime minister… He is more suitable than me at this point to be the prime minister,'” Gantz was heard saying in another undated conversation.

Ex-chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi of Blue and White in a Channel 12 interview on March 9, 2019 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Ironically, the recordings were broadcast on Channel 13 just after Lapid told reporters at a Blue and White campaign event Sunday evening that his relationship with Gantz is very close.

“There are values of friendship here as well as an understanding that this (election) is greater than any of us. I trust Benny and Benny trusts me,” Lapid told reporters. “We know we will know how to work together.”

Willingness to sit under Netanyahu

Gantz was also heard considering the possibility that he may fail to defeat Netanyahu on April 9. But despite public statements asserting that he will not sit in a Netanyahu government, the recordings caught the Blue and White leader entertaining that idea.

“Let’s say that he wins the election, a week later (US President Donald) Trump puts forward a (peace) plan and the people of Israel look at Benny Gantz and say, ‘Come, let’s shield Netanyahu,’ because otherwise (far-right MK Bezalel) Smotrich will kill the last option (we have) to do something.”

Gantz appeared to suggest that Netanyahu will need more moderate coalition partners in order to accept any peace plan proposed by the US.

“So when I get to that moment, I will need to see,” Gantz continued. At the same time, he acknowledged that the timing of such an American proposal would likely coincide with the prime minister’s pre-indictment hearing with the attorney general.

Left to right: Blue and White party leaders Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon visit a shopping center in the southern port city of Ashdod on March 8, 2019. (Flash90)

The Blue and White chairman was heard suggesting that the premier would need to step down for two months until the hearing process is over. During that time, Gantz said, “we’ll make some sort of arrangement.”

But if the attorney general decides to charge Netanyahu after the hearing, which Gantz predicted will be in July, the Blue and White chairman was heard acknowledging that he could no longer partner with the prime minister politically.

“I can’t sit with him after there is an indictment following a hearing. That would be completely crazy.”

Mandelblit is ‘afraid’

On the attorney general, Gantz was heard claiming that Mandelblit is “too afraid” to probe Netanyahu over his conduct in Israel’s purchase of advanced submarines from Germany and the premier’s green-lighting of Berlin’s sale of submarines to Egypt.

“I also think that Mandelblit was afraid to investigate this, and if he had investigated (Netanyahu) on this story, Israel would not have received those submarines. (Mandelblit) is afraid that people will say that (a decision to investigate) could harm (our) national security,” Gantz was heard saying.

According to reports, defense officials and others raised concerns about the sale of the advanced weaponry by German firm Thyssenkrupp to Israel’s neighbor and former foe. Germany does not require Israeli approval for such a sale, but had evidently been open to hearing Israeli concerns. The US and some other allies will only sell advanced arms to Middle Eastern countries that are either a generation removed from the weapons sold to Israel, or will run the sale by Jerusalem first, as a way of protecting the Jewish state in any future conflict.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 2, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Last week, Mandelblit and Netanyahu’s former national security adviser Jacob Nagel both denied the premier’s claim that they knew of the reason behind the approval.

Netanyahu once held shares in Texas-based SeaDrift Coke, a company later acquired by a supplier of ThyssenKrupp, the German shipbuilder at the center of the corruption probe.

Opponents have alleged a possible conflict of interest on the part of the premier. His apparent failure to disclose his investment to state authorities in the past is now being examined, with prosecutors said to be considering a criminal probe. According to a Channel 13 report on Thursday, prosecutors suspect Netanyahu misled the State Comptroller’s Office on his financial assets.

Gantz: Mossad leaked story on Iranian phone hack

Separately on Sunday night, Channel 12 reported that Gantz has asked the Shin Bet security agency to probe whether the Mossad intelligence agency was behind the leak that his cellphone had been hacked by Iran.

Both the Shin Bet and Blue and White refused to comment on the Channel 12 report, with the latter saying it is a “security matter.”

Earlier this month, Channel 12 reported that Iranian intelligence had managed to gain access to Gantz’s phone and all its contents. A follow-up report said that no sensitive security information had been housed on Gantz’s phone at the time of the breach, but suggested that the incident was “embarrassing” for him.

Asked about the report at a joint press conference with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Netanyahu on Sunday night addressed Gantz directly: “Don’t drag the Mossad into political arguments. These are people who can’t defend themselves.”

Blue and White lashed out at Netanyahu in response, urging him to stop leaking “fake news” against Gantz.

Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party has sought to use the phone hack to portray Gantz as unfit to lead the country. Gantz has said the phone did not contain any confidential information and has charged that the leak of the breach to the media was politically motivated. Iran has denied it hacked Gantz’s phone.

The Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, is currently headed by Yossi Cohen, who was chosen for the post by Netanyahu, after serving as his national security adviser.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with outgoing IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz, at a ceremony in honor of incoming IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot (not seen) at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, February 16, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Members of Gantz’s Blue and White party have previously suggested Netanyahu was behind the leak, which the premier has denied. Gantz subsequently claimed that Russia had been involved as well.

The Channel 13 report on Sunday was the second batch of tapes aired by the television network on Gantz. In the first, the Blue and White leader was caught speculating that Netanyahu would be happy to see him dead, and may have asked the Russians to interfere in the elections.

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