Two young men engaging in banter does not a scandal make. Except when one of the boys is the son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and he is boasting about how his father arranged a massive business deal that smells strongly of corruption.
A secretly taped conversation in a car in 2015 involved Yair Netanyahu, now 26, and Ori Maimon, the son of Kobi Maimon, one of the main shareholders in Isramco, which owns the Tamar gas field.
“My dad arranged for your dad $20 billion, and you’re fighting with me about 400 shekels ($100)?” Yair is heard saying in the recording. He said that his father “arranged for your father a great deal” and fought for it in the Knesset.
Aired by an Israeli TV channel, the tape has drawn stinging rebukes from Netanyahu’s office – but not much has been said about the gas deal. Instead, Netanyahu has gone after the channel for broadcasting the tape. Other highlights of the conversation include disparaging comments made about women, which Yair has apologized for, and the issue of whether the state should pay for 24-hour security for Netanyahu’s son. But on the gas deal itself, the Netanyahu statement only said that he has no connection with Kobi Maimon “whom he met only once about 10 years ago”. It added that the prime minister brought about the gas protocol “because he wanted to encourage competition to the Tamar gas field under the ownership of Kobi Maimon”.
The gas deal referenced in the conversation was designed to stimulate investment in Israel’s natural gas industry. The recording took place at the same time Netanyahu was embroiled in controversy surrounding legislation regarding a newly discovered natural gas deposit in the Mediterranean Sea. Under the deal, Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Group would retain control of the Leviathan oil field. But in so doing, they would be forced to sell other, smaller assets such as the nearby Tamar field.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing; however, the gas arrangement overly favored the companies involved. It created a monopoly in the gas market that would lead to higher prices for Israeli consumers. The control of the country’s gas reserves by one consortium limits competition. The Delek-Noble conglomerate that developed Leviathan constitutes a monopoly. The terms given to the energy companies will keep prices high, to the betterment of the rich.
After months of intense debate and numerous bureaucratic and legislative hurdles, Netanyahu signed the deal but not before critics vowed to take their fight to court. The deal caused so much consternation that in an unusual step for an Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu testified, at his own request, in the Supreme Court to defend it. The then antitrust commissioner resigned over Netanyahu’s decision to push the current deal through, while the economy minister, not wanting to pay a political price for the gas deal but also not wanting to stand in its way, resigned his post, allowing Netanyahu to take over the ministry and sign the deal himself.
Netanyahu is suspected in other cases. He is accused of colluding with the publisher of Israel’s daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot in a quid pro quo in which the publisher apparently promised to do everything in his power to keep Netanyahu in office while Netanyahu, in turn, appears to have indicated he would do what he could to limit the reach of an opposition paper. There was also a dubious purchase of German submarines.
It’s not just Netanyahu and his son. Netanyahu’s wife Sara is accused of using government money to pay for personal expenses in her private home. The couple are said to have been showered with gifts and meals.
The whole household is under scrutiny. This Netanyahu troika of husband, wife and son is one big corrupt family affair.