Jerusalem — One of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest confidants has reportedly agreed to testify against him in a graft probe that poses a threat to his long term in power.
Two new corruption investigations announced this week, hard on the heels of a police recommendation for Netanyahu to face charges in two other cases, have fuelled speculation that he could be forced to step down or call an early election.
Shlomo Filber, a Netanyahu ally for more than 20 years and a former communications ministry director-general, was expected to agree to turn state witness in exchange for avoiding jail, Israeli media reported.
Filber was arrested on Sunday in connection with allegations that Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israeli telecoms company Bezeq, gave Netanyahu positive coverage on his Walla! news site in exchange for government policies benefiting the business.
Filber is suspected of mediating between Netanyahu and Elovitch and promoting regulatory changes worth millions to Bezeq. The prime minister has not been named as a suspect in the investigation.
In another case, two Netanyahu allies are alleged to have offered a judge promotion in exchange for dropping a case against the premier’s wife. The two men have been identified as Nir Hefetz and Eli Kamir, both former media advisers for the Netanyahu family. Their alleged offer was to Hila Gerstel, a judge involved in a graft probe into Sara Netanyahu over alleged misuse of public funds.
Police said last week there were grounds to indict the prime minister in two other cases for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust.
Netanyahu, 68, has disputed all the allegations. He released a new video on his Facebook page on Tuesday, strongly denying any wrongdoing.
While Netanyahu’s coalition partners had been saying they would stand by him, they have remained largely silent since Sunday. His right-wing Likud party still remains supportive, but the opposition has called for him to step aside.
Polls last week showed the Israeli public was relatively evenly split on the prime minister’s future.
"If Shlomo (Momo) Filber indeed signed a state’s witness agreement last night, it is the end of an era," Ben Caspit wrote in the Maariv newspaper on Wednesday, calling him Netanyahu’s "closest and most intimate covert operations officer".
"Always in the shadows, always loyal, efficient, secretive and ideological, Bibi (Netanyahu) knew that he could count on Momo — until yesterday," said Caspit, author of a book on the prime minister.
Fiber is seen as one of the architects of Netanyahu’s 2015 election victory, after which he was appointed to head the communications ministry.
The next election is not due until the end of 2019 but Israeli media speculated Netanyahu might call go the polls before the end of this year.
Under the headline "The smell of elections", the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom published a poll suggesting he might even increase his support in parliament despite the allegations hanging over him.
His Likud party holds 30 seats in the 120-seat parliament, but that could rise to 34 if an election were called today, the poll found, without publishing how the poll was made.