In Israel, the words “Benjamin Netanyahu” and “Prime Minister” are virtually synonymous. Netanyahu has lead the Jewish State since 2009, the longest consecutive term in Israel’s history.
During this period, Netanyahu has led a slew of initiatives that transformed him into one of the world’s most recognizable statesmen, despite leading a small country of only 8 million people. Among other things, Netanyahu led the opposition to President Obama’s signing of the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, prevented the establishment of a Palestinian State, and solidified Israel’s covert relations with ostensibly hostile Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
In addition, Netanyahu’s economic reforms jump-started Israel’s economy and played a large put in turning the Jewish State into the technological powerhouse it is today. Currently, Israel is enjoying its lowest unemployment rate in its 70-year history, the highest-ever annual GDP, and highest average salary. All this has enabled Netanyahu to successfully fend off political challengers in his ongoing 11-year reign.
Yet Netanyahu’s unprecedented term may soon be coming to an end after he was indicted on Thursday by Israel’s Attorney General for bribery, breach of trust, and fraud. With elections a little more than a month away, Netanyahu is fighting both for his political life and for his freedom as he faces a popular new opposition party headed by four former commanders of Israel’s military.
In the corruption probe nicknamed “Case 1000,” Netanyahu is accused of accepting lavish gifts from billionaires Arnon Milchan and James Packer. Police say that the gifts, which included excessive campaign contributions, and expensive jewelry and cigars, constituted bribery in exchange for Netanyahu promoting legislation favorable to their interests. Netanyahu maintains that the items were strictly gestures of good will, pointing to the fact that the gifts began even before he returned to the Prime Minister’s Residence in 2008, following an absence of around a decade.
The other two investigations deal with Netanyahu’s efforts to increase his control over the media. In “Case 2000,” authorities say that the prime minister hatched a deal with the publisher of the major newspaper Yediot Aharonot to shutter competing daily Yisrael Hayom in exchange for glowing media coverage. Part of the evidence police have collected includes recordings in which Netanyahu and the Yediot Aharonot publisher can be heard openly negotiating the illicit deal.
Meanwhile, “Case 4000” revolves around allegations that Netanyahu promoted regulatory moves that provided a financial windfall for the owner of Israel’s Bezeq telecommunications in exchange for positive media coverage on a popular website that he owns.
Following his indictment on Thursday, Netanyahu now becomes the first ever Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office. Traditionally, government ministers were forced to resign upon receiving an indictment, a precedent which toppled former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2007. Due to a loophole, however, the law’s wording speaks only about regular ministers and is unclear regarding a serving prime minister under indictment.
The legal charges also come as Netanyahu is battling for his political life. With Israel going to the polls in April, his Likud party is constantly losing ground to the new Kahol Lavan party, which is headed by three former IDF Chief of Staff figureheads who banded together to overthrow the right-wing parties’ grasp on power. In the first time in more than a decade, Netanyahu finds his Likud trailing by a solid margin and beginning to show signs of panicking.
In the movie “The Dark Night,” Batman says that one either “Dies a hero or lives long enough to become a villain.” This quote aptly describes Netanyahu’s current predicament. Despite rebooting Israel’s economy, steering Israel through the changes in the region such as the Arab Spring and the Syria Civil War, Netanyahu has a real chance of ending up as a villain behind bars.