The visit was so unexpected that one of the anchors later said that he thought it was a joke for the Jewish holiday of Purim. It was the first interview that the prime minister had given to an Israeli news outlet in more than three years.
“I’m on my way to Ben Gurion Airport to fly to Washington to meet with Trump,” Netanyahu told them. “I thought I would stop here because I would need to shatter this wave of lies.”
That “wave of lies” relates to the investigation known as Case 3000. While the prime minister is fighting pending indictments in three corruption cases — 1000, 2000 and 4000 — it’s the third file that contains by far the most explosive allegations. That’s in part because of the sums involved as well as the subject matter: defense, sacred in security-obsessed Israel. Specifically, it centers on impropriety surrounding a $2 billion contract for submarines and navy ships with the German firm ThyssenKrupp.
The prime minister, who denies any wrongdoing, has not been named a suspect in the case, but some of his closest aides have, including his cousin and former personal lawyer.
Two new developments in the corruption saga threaten to overshadow Netanyahu’s three-day trip. The first is his admission over the weekend that he had bypassed the defense ministry to approve Germany to sell submarines to Egypt.
The reason he did so was a “state secret,” he told Channel 12, adding that he had informed the attorney general as to why, an assertion Israel’s top judge was quick to deny to Israeli media.
The second is the revelation that Netanyahu profited from shares in a company that is linked to ThyssenKrupp and owned by another cousin. The financial connection emerged when Netanyahu tried to seek approval from Israel’s state comptroller for financial assistance from his cousin for his legal cases.
Netanyahu, who said he did make $1.6 million in profit from shares in the company, said that it was simply a good investment and that the stocks were purchased before he was prime minister. He claims not to have made a shekel from the submarine deal, which progressed despite objections from his defense minister at the time.
His main election opponent, former Israeli army chief of staff Benny Gantz, who is also in Washington this week to address AIPAC, has called for an investigation of the submarine affair.
“Those things must be investigated,” he said in a news briefing Sunday. “It makes no sense. Why do we have a national security council, why do we have a ministry of defense, why do we have a Ministry of Foreign Affairs, why do we have so many official committees, if when it comes to one of our most strategic decisions, we bypass them all by cousins and lawyers?”
In a tight race, Gantz’s Blue and White party has had the edge over Netanyahu’s Likud party in recent polls, but Netanyahu is considered the most likely to be able to form a government, with his right-wing bloc ahead of the center-left overall.
Netanyahu’s lag comes despite Trump’s announcement last week that he would recognize the Golan Heights, captured from Syria during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, as Israeli territory, giving the prime minister a public relations boost less than three weeks before the April 9 election.
Trump has denied that the timing had anything to do with Netanyahu’s bid for reelection, and that he’d been thinking about it for a long time. The prime minister’s campaign has stressed his close ties to the U.S. president, with campaign posters showing the two locked in a handshake.
The Golan was just the latest in a list of wins that Netanyahu is highlighting that he has secured from the administration. Others include the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
However, critics have raised concerns that in linking himself so closely with Trump, he is neglecting the relationship with Democrats regarding how to keep bipartisan support for Israel during this year’s AIPAC.
“Bipartisanship has to be the most important thing between Israel and the United States,” said Gantz, who is scheduled to address AIPAC on Monday morning as Trump and Netanyahu meet at the White House.
Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.