MOSCOW, Russia – The Israeli media are full of speculation that Russia is preparing to meddle in the April parliamentary election to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stay in power. The Kremlin recommended ignoring this news.
Speculation was initiated by Nadav Argaman, head of Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet, who said on Monday that a foreign power is preparing to interfere in the swift parliamentary election scheduled for April. The warning came during an event hosted by the Friends of Tel Aviv University, but the broadcast was partially drafted by the Israeli military censor.
“I cannot say at this time to whom or against whom the intervention will be, but it involves cyber attacks and hackers,” Argaman said. He added that he was “100% [certain] that [the foreign state] will intervene in the next elections, and I know what I’m talking about, I just do not know in favor of who,” he added.
The speech was attended by a large crowd, which makes the effort to keep the identity of the foreign country in secret seemingly meaningless. Israeli media resorted to accusations against Russia in the 2016 US election.
Some Israeli politicians were closest at pointing fingers and also expressed the certainty of who they expected the Russian interference to benefit.
“We demand that the security services ensure that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin does not steal the elections for his friend, the tyrant Bibi,” Tamar Zandberg, head of the leftist opposition party Meretz, said in a statement. “Bibi” is Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli right-wing prime minister, who is running for a fifth term while facing three separate corruption investigations.
The Kremlin responded to the allegations last Wednesday, reiterating that it was not in the business of interfering in the elections of other nations. “Do not read Israeli media,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov joked, paraphrasing a famous quote from Mikhail Bulgakov, who suggested the same thing about the Soviet newspapers.
“Russia has never interfered, is not interfering and does not intend to interfere in an election in any nation of the world,” added Peskov.
Netanyahu also commented on the unfolding of the scandal, assuring the public that the country is prepared to defend itself against any cyber attack in the upcoming elections. A similar statement came from Shin Bet after its boss made the statements.
The Netanyahu government decided to call for an early election in late December, saying that this was necessary because of a debate over the recruitment of Orthodox Jews among members of the ruling coalition.
The announcement came after Netanyahu lost the support of former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and his right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu. This left the ruling coalition with a 61-seat majority in the 120-seat legislature. The election will be held on April 9, about eight months ahead of the required by law.