Now, with Mr. Mandelblit reportedly only weeks away from rendering his decision, Mr. Netanyahu appears to have calculated that there will be an indictment after all — that there is, at last, something — and he has shifted tactics to try to pre-emptively discredit it by impugning the motives of those responsible.
Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition chief, David Amsalem, recently suggested that the prime minister was being framed and that “millions of people won’t accept this.”
The Ministry of Justice put out a terse statement defending the inquiry into Mr. Netanyahu after his speech on Monday, saying: “All parts of the investigation into the prime minister’s cases were conducted professionally and thoroughly.”
Nahum Barnea, a veteran columnist for Yediot Ahronot, said Mr. Netanyahu’s goal was to alarm his core political base, which has repeatedly rallied to his side over the years when he has portrayed himself as a victim, into thinking that the prosecution was nothing more than an attempted coup.
“It’s like Trump,” Mr. Barnea said, alluding to the American president’s similar claims of a witch hunt against him. “He focuses on the base and what I call the tribe: not only Likud voters but the other right-wing parties. He’s trying to put some fear into them, to get them to put their personal loyalty to him over their faith in the legal system.”
Yet to watch Mr. Netanyahu, 69, wearing a tie on Monday in exactly the same hue as the Israeli flags that flanked him, was to see someone other than the smooth, self-assured leader whose swagger has carried him through one scandal or challenge after another in his decade in office.
He looked down repeatedly at his notes, blinked frequently through what appeared to be watery eyes, and showed little of the smirking scornfulness with which he has dismissed the allegations against him in the past.
“Today, the makeup covered it up,” said Mr. Barnea, “but under the makeup, the guy sweats.”