The man responsible for unleashing the firestorm over the prime minister’s office sought to bring it under control on Monday.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who gave police the go-ahead to investigate suspicions of bribe taking and influence peddling on the part of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, on Monday night refused to authorize the release of the recordings of secret talks Netanyahu had with Yediot Acharonot publisher Arnon Mozes, saying it could jeopardize the investigation. He did not rule out releasing them at some later date.
Leaked reports of the Netanyahu-Mozes recordings, in which they were said to be negotiating a deal to, among other things, reduce the competition from Yisrael Hayom and the relentless criticism of Netanyahu in Yediot Acharonot, have inflamed local media for weeks.
In a speech at the Netanya Academic College on Monday, Mandelblit defended the state’s handling of what has become one of the most sensational cases in Israeli political history:
“We made a strategic decision which I believed was very right. Today, the head of the Israel Police’s Investigations and Intelligence Division, the state prosecutor and I are of the same mind that the decision was well-meditated, right and justified,” the attorney general said.
“In recent months, police acted thoroughly and meticulously to check every claim and every suspicion that arose in those cases. In every realm where allegations of violations arose, all necessary actions were taken to get at the truth. In some cases, these actions led to the allegations, as we announced a short time ago. Sometimes, those investigative activities revealed additional claims requiring clarification that were in turn examined. The police acted all the while in coordination with me and with the state prosecutor to take the necessary actions.
“The testimonies of scores of principals were collected, including abroad. When necessary, additional actions were required to investigate complaints. The only consideration taken into account was the best interests of the investigation,” said the attorney general.
“I state here most clearly — I and my people, led by the state prosecutor and members of the Israel Police, led by the head of Investigations and Intelligence, will continue to act in these cases solely from professional considerations, with one single goal — to reach the truth and maintain the rule of law. This is the only way we know. This way, and no other. And we will not deviate from it one iota. We close the windows on Saladin Street, and focus on the work of law enforcement — background noises from the outside of those who seek to divert us from our goal do not enter, nor influence. These are foreign considerations. They must not affect us,” Mandelblit stated.
“The prosecution of the state of Israel is independent and impartial, regardless of the identity of the suspect,” he declared.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Camp) said, “These are difficult days for democracy in Israel, but also days of cleaning and exposure. There is no doubt that our democracy is strong and will withstand this. It is important to say and emphasize that the political system is not corrupt to the core and neither are journalists and the media, because there are good and powerful forces working to right these wrongs.”
Herzog also hinted at worse revelations to come:
“… Netanyahu has shown himself to be a merchant of Israeli democracy, which he treats as his private property. Every Israeli citizen should be concerned by the image of Israeli democracy and by Netanyahu’s other exploits that have not yet been exposed.”