With just 38 days to go until national elections in Israel, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has announced his decision to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three criminal cases, including one charge of bribery, subject to a standard hearing with Netanyahu and his attorneys. The cases against Netanyahu involve, at the less-severe end, allegedly asking for and receiving, over years, gifts of cigars and rosé champagne from multimillionaires, and at the most severe, allegedly granting regulatory favors worth millions to the owner of a digital-media outlet in exchange for favorable coverage. Netanyahu has not been indicted, let alone convicted, yet. He could still win the elections on April 9. And he is far too savvy a politician to count out. All else being equal, however, he likely won’t be Israel’s prime minister for very long.
The announcement is a major blow to Netanyahu, who had it all planned out—or so he thought. The coming elections were designed in no small part to try to prevent just these indictments from being handed down. As Israelis prepared for national elections, journalists and analysts would parse public-opinion numbers and dissect the chances that this time—this time—Netanyahu would lose. And then, Netanyahu believed, he would win. He would win because he was a better campaigner than his rivals and more willing to do whatever it takes. He would win because he is genuinely more experienced than any of his challengers. His campaign, showing him on giant billboards shaking Donald Trump’s hand and boasting that he was in “a league of his own” when it came to international affairs, is effective because in many ways it’s true.