1. The price of bearing witness: Channel 12 publishes new transcripts from the interrogation of ex-Netanyahu spokesman Nir Hefetz, which show police threatening the key witness, raising further questions about police conduct during its investigation into the prime minister as well as the veracity of the former aide’s testimony.
- “I can tell you that every corner you tried to hide during your life, we turned over and found out what you were hiding,” the investigators tell Hefetz in the transcripts read out by Channel 12’s Amit Segal. “And all those movies and scenarios running through your head are possible… It’s money. We know how to deal with money. We know how to relieve you of your assets.”
- The story is all over the day’s headlines with Netanyahu mouthpiece Israel Hayom leading its front page with an op-ed from Akiva Bigman calling on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to correct the injustice before it’s too late.
- The right-wing columnist urges Mandelblit to close the cases against Netanyahu, which he says have been run by a police force that has treated the prime minister and his confidants as if they were the mafia.
- Adding to investigators’ troubles, a state ombudsman calls on Mandelblit to probe police officers who have been leaking details of their investigations to the media before indictments have even been filed. Audit Prosecution Commissioner David Rosen doesn’t refer to the Netanyahu cases in his letter to the attorney general, but nobody can mistake the timing of the plea, which comes less than 24 hours after the premier’s attorneys demanded an identical investigation due to leaks of interrogation transcripts that have made their way to evening broadcasts on a regular basis over the past several years.
2. Hold your horses: While the evidence against law enforcement’s conduct in the Netanyahu probes appears damning, critics of the prime minister are quick to assert that this does not mean that the house of cards is collapsing.
- Haaretz sleuth Gidi Weitz points out that while some parts of Hefetz’s testimony are now known to be problematic, other more “key parts of Hefetz’s statements have outside corroboration, whether from the suspects or material evidence such as recordings. The calls to withdraw the agreement with Hefetz, then, stem from a blend of ignorance and self-interest.”
- As a result of the apparent police misconduct, Weitz says the public
“should prepare for another onslaught from Netanyahu’s lawyers in the days to come… [which] will serve as additional fuel to those who seek Netanyahu’s ouster even at the price of violating the rights of suspects and to those who eagerly rallied around him even at the price of allowing corruption to thrive.”
- Another reporter not exactly known for his affection toward the Netanyahu family, Maariv’s Ben Caspit, largely agrees with Weitz that the latest revelations won’t damage the cases against the premier. Why? Because this is how the police act in all cases. “The police exert brutal pressures during their investigations. They conduct manipulative interrogation exercises, engage in questioning to create a confusing virtual reality for the suspect, all while exerting physical pressure seasoned with harsh conditions and psychological warfare,” Caspit writes.
- The Maariv columnist writes that the real story here is the “hypocrisy” of reporters [read: Amit Segal], who railed against investigators last week for leaking interrogation transcripts to the press, only to gladly use those transcripts days later when the material they were revealing would benefit Netanyahu rather than damage his image.
- Segal responds to the accusations on an afternoon Channel 12 panel, in which he explains that he criticizes police leaks [while on the job] as a private citizen who is disturbed by the illicit conduct. At the same time, it is every journalist’s dream to get their hands on such leaks, and he did so with the Nir Hefetz testimony in his capacity as a journalist, not a private citizen.
3. Direct mess: Shas chairman Aryeh Deri’s idea of having a direct election between Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz in order to solve the political stalemate is gaining steam with Likud MK Miki Zohar telling the Ynet news site that the prime minister is considering the idea as New Right leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked throw their support behind it.
- But analysts who have paused for a moment to consider the proposal have recognized that it wouldn’t necessarily put the parties in a better position to form a coalition than they are currently in. While the loser may face a blow to his ego, there is no telling whether that will actually lead to him making the concessions necessary in order to form a government, writes Haaretz’s Jonathan Lis.
- The headline for his story claims “some right-wing voters may defect to Gantz” in a direct election. Though the article itself doesn’t give any proof for how he reached that conclusion, other than by recognizing that there are lots of right-wing voters that dislike Netanyahu. What he does point out however, is how politically challenging advancing such an initiative would be as it would require the Knesset to advance a whole host of legislation to change the law for this one exception.
- “Blue and White officials” tell Israel Hayom that the initiative is nothing more than “spin” from Netanyahu as the centrist alliance’s leader went on a fresh attack against the Likud head, accusing him of hiding behind his bloc of right wing parties in order to avoid joining a unity government that would prevent a third election.
- The Globes daily reports that while the officials channels have reached a dead end in their negotiations, the unofficial ones have actually made a great deal of progress. Netanyahu, Gantz and even President Reuven Rivlin are aware of these secret efforts, which would see a power-sharing mechanism in which Netanyahu will serve first as prime minister but go on a leave of absence once he is charged — possibly by next month. Gantz would then be interim prime minister until Netanyahu’s two years are up, and would then take over the full-time job.
- In his inaugural speech that went somewhat viral among news junkies, Blue and White MK Asaf Zamir explained how he and his wife are expecting a daughter and that while he wants to give her a normal name, his wife has other ideas and will likely name the baby something weird like “Ismeen.” Zamir then goes on to imagine what kind of conversation he’ll have with his daughter in ten years when he has to explain why he was sworn in as an MK during the 21st Knesset, gave his inaugural speech in the 22nd Knesset and due to the political stalemate may have to wait until the 23rd Knesset in order to see the government formed. “That’s absurd,” he imagines his daughter responding. “You think that’s absurd? Your name is Ismeen,” he cracks back in the imaginary scenario, to the chuckles of the lawmakers sitting in the Knesset plenum.
4. Enriching the level of conflict: Iranian state media reports that Tehran has begun inserting uranium gas into centrifuges at the Fordo nuclear facility, marking its latest step away from the nuclear deal, which the Trump administration bolted last year.
- “Iran’s 4th step in reducing its commitments under the JCPOA by injecting gas to 1,044 centrifuges begins today. Thanks to US policy and its allies, Fordow will soon be back to full operation,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweets.
- Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is among the first to respond to the news, saying, “Iran’s decision to restart enrichment at Fordo is deeply concerning. Before Donald Trump ripped it up, the Iran Deal was working. We must return to serious diplomacy with allies to constrain Iran’s nuclear program and de-escalate the crisis.”
- “Those who praised the cancellation of the nuclear deal with Iran now have another reason to sober up,” writes Democratic Camp MK Yair Golan, who argues that a combination of “of pressures and incentives, and not just one-sided and populist acts” is the right way to go. “The nuclear deal with Iran should have been improved, not canceled,” he adds.
- But Iran hawks insist that the regime in Tehran would have taken such steps regardless of whether or not the deal was still fully intact. Why else would the regime and its supporters chant “Death to Israel, death to America.” Well, far-left CODEPINK director Ariel Gold hypothesizes that “they are not calling for the deaths of people but empire and imperialism.” The tweet is wholly mocked by most of the over 3,000 people who responded to it, among them ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur, who quips, “It’s a damn shame the Persian language doesn’t have words for ’empire’ and ‘imperialism.'”
5. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out: As right-wingers pound their chests following the Supreme Court’s rejection of an appeal made by the local director of Human Rights Watch against a government decision to expel him for allegedly supporting BDS, those on the left assert that the decision will do more harm than good.
- “In deciding to deport HRW’s representative, Israel has taken another step down the dubious road of authoritarian regimes that deny human rights and silence criticism at any cost, like Syria, Iran and North Korea,” reads Haaretz’s editorial.
- Separately in the left-wing daily, Israel Democracy Institute fellow Mordechai Kremnitzer writes that the Supreme Court decision “is another step toward legalizing the occupation and silencing its legitimate opponents. Effectively, what the justices said on Tuesday was that it’s permissible to protest a small, localized injustice, but the state is entitled to silence anyone who protests a large, sweeping injustice.”
- But former Kulanu MK Merav Ben Ari isn’t buying the arguments of the pooh-poohers, stating that HRW’s Omar Shakir acted against Israel from the moment that he arrived and even flew to Bahrain in order to testify in support of FIFA boycotting Israel. “But even Bahrain wouldn’t let him in (how embarrassing for him),” she mocks, adding that Shakir refused to walk back statements he’s made against the Israeli government when given the opportunity to do so.
6. Can we have that back please? Late morning headlines across the media outlets focus on foreign reports that Russia is in possession of an advanced Israeli interceptor missile that was launched last year in response to Syrian rocket fire.
- According to the Chinese news site SINA Saturday, the David Sling’s anti-missile interceptor fired in July 2018 interceptor landed intact in Syria and was swiftly recovered by Syrian military forces, who handed it over to Russia. It was rushed back to Moscow for examination.
- In an interview regarding the incident with Israel Hayom, former senior official at the Defense Ministry Uzi Rubin seeks to downplay the implications of the report.
- “Every army in the world takes into account that a missile fired at the other side will fall into enemy hands. In effect, the only surprise [with the David’s Sling interceptor] is that it fell into Russia’s hands, and not Iran’s. This is good news for us,” he says, though some analysts speculate that the intelligence gained would eventually make its way to Tehran.
- Rubin also argues that the missile almost certainly sustained significant damage after it struck the ground, making it more difficult for Moscow to examine it.