ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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PM's office: He's slated to be released Sunday, before votes

Netanyahu has pacemaker fitted, on eve of final votes on coalition’s overhaul bill

Week after being hospitalized for ‘dehydration’ and getting heart monitor, warning from device prompts surgery for cardiac pacing machine; Levin acting PM, cabinet meeting delayed

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a video message, explaining that he is going into the hospital to have a pacemaker fitted, early on July 23, 2023. (Screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a video message, explaining that he is going into the hospital to have a pacemaker fitted, early on July 23, 2023. (Screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underwent successful surgery early Sunday morning at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan to be fitted with a pacemaker, a week after he was hospitalized for dehydration and had a heart monitoring device implanted, and on the eve of pivotal Knesset votes to pass into law the first bill of the government’s highly contentious judicial overhaul.

Around 4 a.m., the hospital said the procedure — performed by Prof. Roy Beinart and Prof. Eyal Nof — was completed successfully and without complications, adding that the premier was in good condition and that he would “stay for observation at the cardiology department at Sheba.”

The Prime Minister’s Office similarly said the operation was completed successfully, that he was feeling good and that he was expected to be discharged Sunday.

Update: On Sunday, Sheba doctors revealed that Netanyahu’s heart monitor indicated that he had a “transient heart block,” necessitating the pacemaker. Without the monitor alerting to the problem, his life could have been in danger. “If the disorder did not pass and the heart rate did not recover, we would reach a slow heart rate to the point of loss of consciousness and, God forbid, cardiac arrest,” said Sheba’s Professor Roy Beinart.

A pacemaker is a device that stimulates one’s heart to control or increase the heartbeat if it is too slow or irregular. Implanting it usually takes several hours and recipients are typically discharged from the hospital the same day or the next day, according to the US hospital Mayo Clinic and Britain’s National Health Service.

A week ago, Netanyahu, 73, was hospitalized from Saturday to Sunday after he complained of dizziness following a trip Friday to the Sea of Galilee, where he acknowledged spending several hours in the sun and in scorching heat “without a hat, without water.”

At the time, Sheba said doctors had completed a series of examinations and found that the premier’s heart “is completely normal,” that “at no point was any heart arrhythmia found.” However, it added that doctors “decided to use a subcutaneous Holter, as is customary” — a device that monitors one’s heart and warns if there are irregularities.

In a video message shortly before 1 a.m., Netanyahu said: “A week ago they put in a monitoring device. That device beeped this evening and said I need to receive a pacemaker. I need to do this already tonight. I’m feeling excellent, but I’m listening to my doctors.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the architect of the overhaul, filled in as acting prime minister during Netanyahu’s surgery, which required the premier to be sedated.

Since Netanyahu has refrained from appointing a permanent acting prime minister and his replacement is selected on a case-by-case basis, ministers approved Levin’s appointment by a phone vote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 7, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Netanyahu said his medics had told him he was expected to be released from the hospital in time to take part in planned votes on the coalition’s controversial “reasonableness” bill.

The Knesset was set to begin debating the bill Sunday morning, ahead of its second and third — and final — readings, expected Monday or Tuesday.

The legislation, part of the wider plan to overhaul the judiciary, has drawn intense opposition, with hundreds of thousands protesting and many setting up a tent city near the Knesset, while some 10,000 reservists have said they’ll halt their volunteer duty if it passes into law.

In his video statement, Netanyahu said he was in constant talks with politicians and that he hoped an agreement would be reached with the opposition over the bill, even though Hebrew media reports indicated Saturday that there was no contact over the weekend with opposition party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz.

The weekly cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday morning was delayed to a yet-unknown time.

Also postponed were key security discussions — including a reported planned meeting between the premier and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi — on the impact on Israel’s security of the “reasonableness” bill to curtail judicial oversight, and the reservists’ warnings that they will not volunteer.

According to reports in Hebrew-language media on Sunday morning, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant went to meet with Netanyahu at the Sheba Medical Center.

Netanyahu’s surgery — and the nighttime announcement that came shortly before the procedure itself — came amid rising criticism over the lack of transparency over the premier’s medical condition and the fact that during his previous hospitalization, information had only been released by the hospital in coordination with the Prime Minister’s Office, or by the office itself.

Related: Questions swirl about PM’s health after discharge from hospital with heart monitor

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his wife Sara during a vacation near the Sea of Galilee on July 14, 2023. (Courtesy; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Netanyahu heads an unprecedentedly hardline Israeli coalition government, which has sparked more than six months of internal opposition over its plans to overhaul the judiciary. The legislation to block judicial scrutiny over the “reasonableness” of politicians’ decisions is the first overhaul bill to advance since Netanyahu temporarily froze the legislative blitz in late March. The Knesset breaks for summer recess at the end of the month.

The planned overhaul has plunged his ties with the US into crisis, with President Joe Biden refusing to invite him to the White House and publicly expressing concerns for the fate of Israeli democracy.

Netanyahu is also in the midst of a protracted corruption trial, having been charged with three counts of fraud and breach of trust and one of bribery. He denies all the allegations and says he is the victim of a political witch hunt.

In October, Netanyahu was hospitalized at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center after feeling unwell during Yom Kippur synagogue services. He was released the next morning after undergoing exams and remaining overnight for observation.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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