Today’s announcement by Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit of his intention to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three corruption cases was hardly a surprise decision. Investigations have been going on for years, and the Israel Police recommended indictments early in 2018. The prime minister was always acutely aware of the looming indictments, and his political allies and rivals knew this as well.

An Israeli prime minister has gone to prison over corruption once before. Yet Ehud Olmert resigned his office well before he was ever indicted. The mere fact that he was under investigation was enough to get Olmert to step aside. Netanyahu is well beyond that stage in his own legal travails, and long ago made clear that he would not go down as easily as his predecessor.

For most Israeli voters, the April 9 election — in which the main opposition party bears many substantive similarities with the ruling Likud — is a referendum on the public’s approval of Netanyahu. But to the prime minister, it is a battle for personal freedom. If Benny Gantz fails to secure the premiership, he will sit in the Knesset, maybe in the opposition, or perhaps he will go home. For Netanyahu, defeat carries far more existential consequences: losing the prime minister’s office means going to jail.

Netanyahu’s political calculus goes like this: with an ideologically solid coalition, he can push through legislation that would render him immune to prosecution so long as he remains prime minister, with an override clause to obstruct supreme court interference. This is called the French Law, after similar legislation passed in France to shield then-President Jacques Chirac. Netanyahu will need partners with no moral qualms about taking this potentially lengthy route, which likely entails the passage of a new Basic Law. The Israeli right may be willing to pursue this option: after Mandelblit’s announcement, all of the coalition parties from the last Knesset, save Kulanu, issued statements of solidarity with Netanyahu. Meanwhile, Benny Gantz has come out against joining a coalition that includes Netanyahu under indictment. This is why a national unity government with Kachol Lavan is unlikely to satisfy the prime minister’s needs.

This state of desperation informed Netanyahu’s decision to facilitate a joint list between Bayit Yehudi and the Kahanist fanatic Otzma Yehudit party. A larger united right-wing ticket means less potential for small right-wing parties to fall below the electoral threshold, meaning more potential coalition partners and fewer “wasted” votes.

Hemmed in by a potent political threat from Gantz’s Kachol Lavan bloc and legal challenges from the Israeli justice system, Netanyahu has taken to a particularly vicious form of scare tactics. In a now-pulled Likud ad (which my colleague Eli Kowaz explains in more detail here), Gantz is labeled a left-winger while images of terror attacks are thrown up on the screen as proof that a left-leaning government will come at the cost of hundreds of Israeli lives. The problem, of course, is that Gantz is no leftist and that the attacks depicted occurred under Likud-led coalitions, but the stain has potential to stick to the Kachol Lavan leader. In the 1990s, then-Opposition Leader Netanyahu infamously presided over rallies in which right-wing demonstrators caricatured Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in P.L.O. garb. In Israel, the charge of abetting terrorism carries real weight. Netanyahu may have pulled back this time to skirt controversy, but he will likely repeat this kind of rhetoric when it is expedient to do so.

Beyond Kachol Lavan, there are other convenient punching bags for the prime minister to go after. Left-wing opposition groups and Palestinian-Israeli citizens were all fair game in previous elections, back when jail time was not at stake for Netanyahu. With more personally on the line, Netanyahu will be prone to taking an increasingly aggressive tack here. Expect his positions to bleed over into the opposition, as Kachol Lavan goes on the defensive. There is evidence of this occurring already: When Netanyahu charged that the centrist coalition would rely on Arab parties to form a government, Yair Lapid rejected the very thought that he would even talk to Arab parties, rather than question the prime minister’s implicit delegitimization of a Palestinian-Israeli role in government.

While Netanyahu fends off the justice system, he may even be able to turn around the indictments at least partly to his advantage. In his response to Attorney General Mandelblit, Netanyahu invoked a vast left-wing conspiracy designed to bring pressure to bear against the courts and overthrow the government. This kind of talk is bound to energize some right-wing voters, who will embrace a sense of righteous victimhood in opposing the boogeyman of an anti-Netanyahu cabal.

The risks grow even greater if Netanyahu is able to form a government. Though the prime minister fields in advantage in coalition building, his personal political stock is lower than at any time in the last decade. In the Likud primaries earlier this month, voters elevated Netanyahu rival Gideon Sa’ar, exposing the prime minister’s loosening grasp on his own faction. Whatever practical or ideological concerns that kept Netanyahu from appointing pro-settlement icon Naftali Bennett to the defense ministry will take second priority to the embattled Israeli leader’s desire to hold onto the premiership. Already, Netanyahu promised two ministries to Bayit Yehudi, to Bennett’s right. If the next government passes the French Law for Netanyahu, the other parties may ask that the prime minister return the favor. Faced with the option of prison or acceding to right-wing demands, Netanyahu may prove more pliable than in previous years.

The Times of Israel released polls today predicting that the indictment announcement will completely shake up the electoral map, charting a clear path to a coalition for Kachol Lavan without the need to even consider a national unity government. But there are nearly six weeks left in the campaign, which is a long time for Netanyahu to pull out all the stops and for Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid to squander whatever advantage they may have accrued from the prime minister’s legal troubles. There is a real possibility that, post-indictment, Netanyahu could see embarrassing information leaked. Yet absent any major revelations, the indictments by themselves are not a surprise in Israel, where Netanyahu’s corruption scandals are well known. After the initial commotion surrounding Mandelbit’s announcement subsides, it will still be Benjamin Netanyahu’s election to lose.