Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to defend himself on Tuesday after his son was recorded seemingly drunk outside a strip club talking about a natural gas deal by his government.

The audio recording of Yair Netanyahu, who has been the subject of controversy in the past, led to further criticism of his father’s handling of Israel’s natural gas industry at a time when he already faces two unrelated graft investigations.

The conversation on the recording also includes talk of strippers and prostitutes.

Netanyahu’s family denounced the broadcast of the recording by Israel’s Channel 2 television late Monday as part of a witch-hunt, while Yair Netanyahu said he was  joking in the audio and it’s an old audio from 2015.

Netanyahu’s son felt sorry for boasts about gas deal outside a stripclub

Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair has issued an apology amid continuing controversy over an apparently drunken recording of him outside a strip club suggesting his father helped push through a $20bn (£14.8bn) deal to the benefit of a gas tycoon.

The statement issued by the 26-year-old emerged as the Israeli prime minister issued his own statement amid continuing political fallout from the tape.

Commentators had focused as much on the fact that Yari Netanyahu had been driven between strip clubs by a government-supplied driver and state bodyguard on a drunken evening out as much as his boasts about the highly lucrative and controversial gas deal.

Those remarks, however, led to further criticism of his father’s handling of Israel’s natural gas industry at a time when the prime minister faces two unrelated corruption investigations.

Despite the apology, and the Israeli prime minister’s own statement criticising his son, the Netanyahu family denounced the broadcast of the tape by Israel’s Channel 2 television late on Monday, claiming it was part of a politically inspired witch-hunt.

In the tape Yair Netanyahu can be heard speaking with the son of Kobi Maimon, a stakeholder in a company that owns a share in Israel’s offshore Tamar gas field.

“My dad arranged $20bn for your dad – you can give me 400 shekels [ £86],” he said in a conversation that also included talk about prostitutes and strippers.

Although he did not deny the content of the recording or the events depicted, Yair Netanyahu tried to cast himself as the victim in his statement.

“Tonight I watched a disgraceful, yellow-press report that presented illegal recordings of a conversation that took place two and a half years ago. In a conversation under the influence of alcohol, I spoke nonsense about women and other things that were better left unsaid.

“These remarks do not reflect who I am, the values on which I was raised and my beliefs. I regret the remarks and apologies if anyone was hurt by them.

“In addition, the things I said to Maimon were a dumb joke and joking around with him, as anyone could tell. I never took an interest in the natural-gas framework agreement and never had any idea about its details,” he said.

The Israeli prime minister also tried to turn the tables on the media for broadcasting the tape, suggesting it had been shopped round for money.

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image: theatlantic.com

“My son was correct in saying yesterday that he had spoken foolish words. He said, it’s not me, Yair. He said that these are not the values that characterize him. And he’s right,” the Israeli prime minister said after a meeting with Nato ambassadors in Jerusalem.

The emergence of the tape has renewed political interest in the controversial gas deal, with opponents having claimed it overly favoured the companies involved. Among critics was the Israeli Labour party leader, Avi Gabbay, who said the recording was a “new stain on the corrupt gas deal”.

Netanyahu, however, rejected the claim, saying: “Everyone who understands the details of the gas deal … knows that the argument that I somehow favoured Kobi Maimon is absurd.”

There was also criticism over Yair Netanyahu’s security arrangements, with at least two lawmakers calling for an investigation.

Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Sima Kadmon summed up the reaction of many commentators over the affair: “If this were not the prime minister’s son, there might be something to be said for the response of the Netanyahu family, that this is cheap and malicious gossip.

 Speaking before meeting with ambassadors from NATO countries, Netanyahu said his son had apologized for speaking foolishly about women and that he had known nothing about the gas deal.

“Yair didn’t know about it,” he said. “He didn’t know anything about it, and what he said, he said under the influence of alcohol, in a tasteless joke with a friend. But he had no idea.”

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image: haaretz.com

Yair Netanyahu, now 26, can be heard in the recording speaking with the son of Kobi Maimon, a stakeholder in a company that owns a share in Israel’s offshore Tamar gas field.

“My dad arranged $20 billion for your dad — you can give me 400 shekels ($116),” he says.

Yair Netanyahu says his mother is calling him at one point.

At another point in the recording, someone else with them — Roman Abramov, a representative of Australian billionaire James Packer — says “God help us” if the conversation ever becomes public.

Yair Netanyahu issued a statement apologizing and saying he was only joking about the gas deal while “under the influence of alcohol”.

“Regarding what I said about the gas deal, it was a joke. Anyone with a bit of common sense understands that right away.”

Netanyahu faced a difficult political battle over Israel’s natural gas arrangements, with opponents saying they overly favor the companies involved.

Labour party leader Avi Gabbay said the recording was a “new stain on the corrupt gas deal”.

There was also criticism over Yair Netanyahu’s security arrangements, with at least two lawmakers calling for an investigation.

A security guard employed by the state purportedly accompanied Yair Netanyahu to the strip club.

Netanyahu’s office said it “is not consulted on protection arrangements for his children decided upon by the security services”.

The Netanyahus in a statement said the broadcast of the recording was part of a “witch-hunt against the family that has reached an unprecedented low”.

“Apparently, everything is fair game to attack the Netanyahu government and family, including using a secret and illegal recording of young men drinking alcohol,” it said.

The statement also said Netanyahu had no relationship with Maimon and was not aware of Yair Netanyahu’s friendship with his son.

It said the premier had met Maimon “once 10 years ago”.

Netanyahu repeated this on Tuesday, while saying his efforts to develop the gas fields were always in Israel’s best interests.

According to the family, the recording was made by a driver from the prime minister’s office. Israeli media reported that the driver has long since resigned for unrelated reasons.

The recording was a new blow to Netanyahu, who is already facing two separate graft investigations.

Police are probing Netanyahu over allegations he received expensive gifts from wealthy supporters. He is also being investigated over an alleged deal he sought with a newspaper publisher for favorable coverage.

Netanyahu, who has been questioned by police seven times in the investigations, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Separately, his wife Sara Netanyahu faces a possible trial over alleged misuse of public funds. She also denies the allegations.

Netanyahu’s effort to approve a natural gas framework to develop Israel’s significant offshore deposits met stiff resistance from opposition politicians and public protests.

After protracted political and bureaucratic challenges to the framework, including objections from anti-trust officials, Israel’s supreme court in March 2016 struck it down.

It was later revised and given final approval. Netanyahu argued on Tuesday that the framework had opened Israel’s gas market to further competition to Maimon’s detriment.

Yair Netanyahu has drawn controversy in the past, including over a bizarre Facebook post in September suggesting there was a conspiracy against his family. The post included a series of anti-Semitic images.