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Netanyahu's sack of woes filling up after Iran deal

JERUSALEM - Israel's attorney general has ordered a criminal investigation into excessive spending at the residences of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The announcement followed a report by the state comptroller, which said large sums of public money were spent on food, wine, furniture and gardening at Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem and a private luxury villa on the Mediterranean coast.

It's an embarrassment for the prime minister as the cost of living for normal Israelis soars. Evening news programs feature almost-daily stories about ordinary families who can't make it through the month.

With wages low, many people simply can't afford to buy a home or other basics. The average apartment costs in the region of $400,000. Food prices are up, and gasoline is running $6.70 per gallon.

Critics say Netanyahu is out of touch with the people.

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And the investigation is a second blow to Netanyahu following the Iran nuclear deal reached last week by six world powers -- including Israel's most important ally, the U.S. -- and the Islamic Republic.

The Israeli leader had staked his political career on stopping the deal. He campaigned so hard to prevent it, including a controversial speech to the U.S. Congress in March, that he drew the ire of the Obama administration and, many believe, seriously harmed relations with the U.S.

That has provided cannon fodder for the Israeli opposition. Yair Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, slammed Netanyahu's diplomatic campaign as a "colossal failure."

"I also am not thrilled by Obama's polices. But Netanyahu crossed a line that caused the White House to stop listening to Israel," Lapid charged. "In the last year we weren't even in the arena, we had no representative in Vienna, our intelligence cooperation was harmed, and the door to the White House was closed to us. He should resign, because if you promise for years that only you can prevent this deal and then it's signed, you're responsible."

If that were not enough, Netanyahu currently controls a shaky right-wing coalition government with a razor-thin majority in the 120-member Knesset (Israeli parliament); only 61 seats. The leadership edge is so tenuous that if just one coalition member bolts, it could bring down the government.

This has subjected the Israeli leader to political blackmail. For instance, the ultra-Orthodox parties -- some of the most bitterly opposed to the Iran talks -- are getting a big piece of the state-funded national pie, infuriating the secular majority.

Netanyahu has often forbidden coalition members from travelling abroad, fearing their absence could enable the opposition to bring down the government in a hastily-called no-confidence vote.

To prop up his fragile coalition, he has been courting the opposition Labor Party, but dovish Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog says he won't serve as a fig leaf for Netanyahu's reckless policies.

"As I have said over and over again, I am not going to join the government," Herzog declared. "We must not give it a lifeline or lend our support in any way. We must replace this government today, tomorrow, as soon as possible."

The government is only two months old, and its collapse is not imminent. Cabinet ministers and coalition members are never eager to give up the benefits and perks that come with the reins of power.

"He can survive. The question is what quality of life he will have," said Amit Segal, a political commentator for Israel's Channel 2 TV. "It's hard to see him pushing forward with anything big."

Israel is notorious for political turmoil and few governments serve out their four-year terms. With the brewing scandal, backlash from the Iran crisis, a simmering conflict with the Palestinians and a one-seat majority in parliament, it seems increasingly likely that Netanyahu's fourth term in office will suffer the same fate.

Filed by CBS Radio News correspondent Robert Berger

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