Elected officials in Israel – including cabinet ministers and members of Knesset – are required to place their private investments in blind trusts. So when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked to make changes to his financial portfolio earlier this month, it raised eyebrows in Israel and got people asking: Is it a sign the prime minister is poised for a unilateral strike against Iranian nuclear facilities? Any military action would almost certainly impact international stock markets and thus affect the holdings of both citizens and politicians.
But just days after getting approval from the State Comptroller’s Office to tweak his financial holdings, Netanyahu rescinded the request. A statement from Netanyahu's office explained he did "not to go forward with the matter in order to prevent the possibility of misinterpretation."
Opposition politicians lined up to criticize Netanyahu’s move. The Times of Israel reports:
Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) on Monday called the prime minister’s request to change his portfolio “puzzling,” saying that the move showed “more than just a hint of his intentions.” Mofaz further said that the request showed how aware Netanyahu is of the security and economic risks involved in attacking Iran. […]
Labor party chair Shelly Yachimovich called Netanyahu’s portfolio request “obscene,” saying that even a child can understand that the prime minister is privy to sensitive security and economic intelligence that affects the stock market. Netanyahu himself, moreover, has the power to alter the world’s stock markets by dint of the decisions he takes, she said. If Netanyahu “has relevant information, he should be sharing it with the public,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
The Israeli media has been filled with speculation in recent weeks regarding if and when Netanyahu might decide to carry out an attack on Iran’s secret nuclear facilities. Most recently, Israel’s Channel 2 quoted sources close to Netanyahu saying that he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have “almost finally” made their decision to attack Iran to try to stop – or at least slow down - its march toward nuclear weapons.
David Shimron, Netanyahu’s lawyer, insists the initial suggestion to alter the prime minister’s domestic and foreign investments was his idea, not the prime minister’s, and was prompted by “the shifts of the world economy.”
In a conference call with reporters, Shimron said:
[…]“From the prime minister's perspective it's not a catastrophe if there's a slight erosion in his portfolio, and if a new government is formed then that would be the appropriate time" to make the change to the protocol. If there's a need we'll do it in the future, not now. The idea of a connection to Iran or to anything is pathetic," he added.
In 2006, then IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, faced public outrage after it was reported he had phoned his stock broker asking him to sell $28,000 in stocks just hours before the outbreak of war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Was Netanyahu’s request simply a cautious financial move or the sign of something more? Tell us what you think in comments below.