Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today summoned loyal associates in the Likud party for an urgent meeting in his office today, following developments in the submarines procurement affair and the publication of State Comptroller Joseph Shapira's highly critical report on Netanyahu's conduct towards Bezeq Israeli Telecommunication Co. Ltd. (TASE: BEZQ) and its controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, himself a friend of Netanyahu.
A number of Likud ministers and MKs were present at the meeting, including coalition chairman MK David Bitan, MK Miki Zohar, Minister of Science and Technology Ofir Akunis, Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi, Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin, and Minister of Environmental Protection Zeev Elkin.
It is believed that Netanyahu was seeking to use the meeting to create a united front for dealing with what his circle is calling a media blitz in recent days. It appears that Netanyahu is demanding that his party colleagues enlist in counter-efforts in the media and the public arena, especially in view of the momentum created by the election of Avi Gabbay as leader of the Labor Party and the vitriolic political campaign being conducted on billboards by Netanyahu's senior government colleague, Minister of Finance and Kulanu party chairman Moshe Kahlon.
At the meeting, Netanyahu said, "I have invited you in order to give you the facts, and you will present them in media interviews… According to both the Ministry of Justice and the State Comptroller's report, I made no controversial decision. In the submarines affair, it was stated explicitly that I was not involved, but it is making no difference. Do you know why? Because Netanyahu is guilty, even if he's proved innocent."
Netanyahu repeated what he said at the beginning of the police investigation – that everything done concerning him amounted to a political putsch. "A lynching campaign is being waged against me. The object of the political elements and media figures, who are coordinating their efforts, is to overthrow me and the Likud."
The Likud ministers and MKs immediately got the message. At the end of the meeting, those referred to in political circles as "Netanyahu's Rottweilers" took an especially aggressive line. "We're going on the offensive. We're fed up with all the unforgivable mudslinging against the prime minister," Zohar said. "We have conclusive evidence that the prime minister has no connection to any of the affairs in question," he added. "It's time for people to stop accusing him over everything that happens in this country. This unreasonable attitude, according to which the prime minister is always guilty until proven otherwise, has to stop."
Political sources believe that the ring is closing in on Netanyahu, and that the watchdogs, headed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblitt, are likely to summon Netanyahu soon for questioning in the submarines affair and order the issuing of indictments in other cases.
"The question now is whether Netanyahu will go on taking the blows from the investigations, or whether he will surprise people by seeking early elections - that's all his fevered brain can think about right now," the head of one Knesset faction told "Globes" today.
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on July 13, 2017
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