Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applied unusual pressure to buy a seventh submarine from German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp, the former director general of the Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. (res.) Dan Harel, said in an affidavit submitted to the High Court of Justice, Channel 12 News reported on Monday evening.
Harel described an argument between Netanyahu and himself on the matter. “I had the impression that there was an interest whose nature is not clear to me behind this procurement initiative,” he wrote.
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The affidavit was submitted as part of a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Movement for Quality Government, which is asking the court to order an investigation of Netanyahu over the submarine affair.
The affair involves the contacts between Israel and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems about five years ago.
At the center of the affair are two agreements between Israel and the German company: One was to buy three submarines for 1.5 billion euros; the other was the purchase of missile corvettes for the purpose of defending Israel’s offshore natural gas fields and production platforms for 430 million euros. Senior IDF officers, public officials and a number of people close to Netanyahu are suspected of demanding and receiving bribes to advance the deals with ThyssenKrupp.
During the investigation, in an unusual step, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced that Netanyahu was a suspect in the affair.
Harel, who was the Defense Ministry director-general at the time, described pressures related to the bidding process for purchasing the ships in the affidavit. “Heavy pressure was put on the ministry, both from the Prime Minister’s Office and from representatives of the [National Security Council], and it was entirely meant to prevent the publication of a [competitive bidding] tender in an attempt to force the ministry to carry out the procurement in Germany, and specifically from ThyssenKrupp.”
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Harel added that he remembers written instructions from Netanyahu’s military aide forbidding such a tender, as well a great number of requests from then National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen – who is today the head of the Mossad – and his deputy Avriel Bar Yosef.
“My position was that only through [competitive bidding] was it possible to force every manufacturer – including ThyssenKrupp – to give the best price, and that every shipyard that has the ability to produce the desired model was invited to make an offer, even if they benefitted from government subsidies,” wrote Harel.
Harel said he tried to bypass the pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office and ordered to publish the tender without informing the National Security Council or PMO. “Within a very short time, National Security Adviser Cohen demanded I cancel the tender, in his words because of a request from the prime minister. I replied to him that I couldn’t act according to an unreasonable dictate,” wrote Harel.
The Defense Ministry’s legal adviser told Harel that attorney David Shimron had approached him – seemingly on behalf of Netanyahu – to stop the tender. Shimron has been charged, pending a hearing, of money laundering in the submarine affair. Shimron is also the Netanyahu family’s personal lawyer and Netanyahu’s cousin.
“It never occurred to me at the time that attorney Shimron was also connected to the representative of ThyssenKrupp in Israel, and that he was working in return for payment in the service of the company’s agent [Michael] Ganor, in addition to his activities on behalf of the prime minister,” wrote Harel.
Except for what he was told by Shimron and NSC officials, Harel said he had no other evidence that Netanyahu was the one who ordered the tender canceled. But Harel describes a dramatic meeting between Netanyahu and himself, in which Netanyahu demanded to buy a seventh submarine despite the objections of the Defense Ministry.
“Mr. Netanyahu told me and [then Defense Minister Moshe] Ya'alon very emphatically that an additional submarine would be purchased, the seventh in number, while he was pounding on the table with his hand,” Harel stated. “Even though this was not an official order, I thought that such an instruction, which was intended to carry out procurement and increase the submarine force, was unreasonable. Based on my acquaintance with the matter, an argument between myself and Mr. Netanyahu began during the meeting, and I remember that I replied to the prime minister that there was no need for a seventh submarine and in any case, we could not afford it. The dialogue between us was unusual. Mr. Netanyahu said that he would make sure to budget for the additional submarine procurement from an external budget outside the defense budget. I responded that I couldn’t accept this.”
Harel also said that to the best of his knowledge, “systematic and continued compartmentalization of all the officials in the Defense ministry on the matter of the procurement from ThyssenKrupp could not have been an accident, and it was carried out intentionally and according to the instructions of the Prime Minister’s Office.” Harel said that he had the impression that behind the submarine purchasing initiative was “an interest whose nature was not clear to me, to expand the scope of the relationship with ThyssenKrupp and to increase the compensation to the company in a manner that had no justification.”
“The fact that all the contacts, meetings and negotiations by the officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, such as the national security adviser, the special envoy of the prime minister, deputy national security adviser and also the prime minister’s lawyer while excluding all the people from the Defense ministry and IDF … up to and including the minister responsible, is extremely unreasonable and requires explanation,” wrote Harel.
In response to the report on Channel 12 News, a spokesman for Netanyahu said that it was stale news, and that Harel had been questioned on the matter in 2017.