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Submarine Scandal Should Also Focus on Netanyahu's Other Attorney

While David Shimron, Netanyahu's lawyer, was working on the submarine deal, his partner, Isaac Molho, served as the prime minister's personal emissary on sensitive diplomatic missions; but it might be too soon to cry corruption.

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The Israel Navy's INS Rahav submarine.
The Israel Navy's INS Rahav submarine. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The storm in the submarine affair is now focused, naturally enough, on revelation of the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal attorney, David Shimron, was also the attorney of the Israeli broker in the submarine purchase. But it’s not just a matter of the legal services provided by Shimron to Netanyahu, the cost and funding of which the two men refuse to reveal. The other half of the Shimron-Molho legal firm, Isaac Molho, is spending a lot of his time as Netanyahu’s personal emissary on sensitive diplomatic missions.

That is, while one senior partner is working on the submarine deal, which depends on the prime minister’s decision and the expert opinion of the National Security Council, the other senior partner is being sent on secret missions by Netanyahu, missions he sometimes embarks on accompanied by senior security officials, including members of the National Security Council.

Netanyahu and Shimron have been claiming over the past few days in their statements to the press that they never discussed the issue of the submarines with each other and that Shimron did not even tell the prime minister that he was representing the broker in the sub deal, Michael Ganor.

Even if their statements are true – which Shimron backed up Sunday with a report on Channel 2 of the results of his polygraph test that showed he was telling the truth – apparently there should have been total separation between the variety of matters that the prime minister and his two attorneys/close associates deal with.

A Great Wall of China was needed here, and another Great Wall next to it: between Shimron as Ganor’s representative and Shimron’s work as Netanyahu’s attorney (and Netanyahu himself), and between Shimron and his partner Molho, who also deals with sensitive security and diplomatic matters. That is probably not what happened all the way along.

Isaac MolhoCredit: Tess Scheflan

Shimron has been claiming over the past few days that in the submarine deal he focused on representing Ganor to the German shipyard. It is not certain that this argument serves his claims. After all, to the shipyard, which wants this huge security deal with Israel, clearly the fact that entirely by coincidence the prime minister and the Israeli broker share the same lawyer could constitute a significant consideration in choosing to continue to rely on that broker.

According to reports in TheMarker over the past few days, Ganor and the Germans were not the only ones who identified a possible benefit in this. And a superficial perusal of the Shimron-Molho firm’s website shows an abundance of dealings with issues that ostensibly have quite a lot to do with the matters of client number 1, the prime minister, who is also the communications minister.

And so it is difficult to accept Shimron’s sweeping claim that no conflict of interests whatsoever exists here (there might, for example, be similarities to the Investment Center affair in which former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted, which dealt with opening doors for a client of Olmert’s attorney and close associate). In any case, the attorney general’s squirming and delaying in investigating the affair are a little strange.

However, the leap of logic made by Netanyahu’s opponents – from the claim of suspecting Shimron of a conflict of interests straight to accusations of corrupt involvement of the prime minister in the purchase of the subs – also doesn’t seem well founded, at least at this point. It seems that Netanyahu’s desire to purchase three more submarines is in the realm of a reasonable decision.

One may argue with the wisdom of buying more subs (and despite the squirming of his bureau, it is already quite clear that at the beginning Netanyahu asked for additional subs, not replacements for old ones), one may wonder about the speed with which Netanyahu sought to close the deal, considering the long timetable – about 10 years – until the subs are acquired; one may also wonder about the fact that former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and senior Israel Defense Forces brass were kept away from the details of some of the contacts with the Germans.

But there is some distance to cross from there to accusing Netanyahu of corruption. Some of the prime minister’s adversaries are making life easy for themselves by their unequivocal assertions.

There’s no arguing with the fact that Netanyahu is under pressure from this affair. The timing, coming close on heels of new leaks in the almost-final state comptroller’s draft report on the last war in Gaza, is certainly not convenient for him. The bullying, aggressive tone of some of the statements from his bureau (which began with the response to Gidi Weitz and Nati Tucker’s report in Haaretz and the investigative TV show “Uvda” two weeks ago) shows this, as does the long series of responses from Netanyahu and the National Security Council, which under Netanyahu has become a branch of the prime minister’s spokesman instead of a body whose task is to examine and present various alternatives.

It seems that Netanyahu is also under pressure from the claims against Shimron and the possibility that a legal investigation of the affair will require him to part ways, if only temporarily, with his near-at-hand pair of attorneys.

In the background of all of this floats the figure of the former candidate for the chairmanship of the National Security Council, Brig. Gen. (res.) Avriel Bar-Yosef. Raviv Drucker’s report on Channel 10 of Shimron’s involvement in the submarine deal came out on the day Bar-Yosef was arrested. The suspicions against Bar-Yosef are focusing meanwhile, according to statements from the police, on connections with a German businessman indirectly connected with decisions about the natural gas plan. But Bar-Yosef was also involved at different points in decisions about the purchase of navy submarines and ships to protect Israel’s territorial waters.

The possibility should not be ruled out that in the coming phases of clarification of the various affairs all these threads – natural gas, submarines and ships, will come together.

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