Defense Minister Benny Gantz nears a decision on appointing an inquiry committee into alleged corruption in the procurement of submarines and other naval vessels by Israel, in the so-called "submarine affair."
At the center of the affair are two agreements between Israel and German company ThyssenKrupp: 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 navy officers, public officials and a number of people close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are suspected of demanding and receiving bribes to advance the deals, but last month Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced that there was no reasonable basis for charging the prime minister..
Gantz has come to an agreement with retired Judge Amnon Straschnov to head the committee if it is established, but a final decision is expected to be made Thursday.
Gantz’s Kahol Lavan has been deliberating setting up the inquiry for more than a month. Anti-Netanyahu demonstrators have increasingly been demanding that a criminal probe into the case be reopened, and Gantz’s associates have discerned support for this among the public as well.
There are those who believe that Mendelblit let Netanyahu off the hook too quickly when he decided not to question the premier in the case. Netanyahu has also been acting very concerned every time the possibility of an inquiry is raised.
Kahol Lavan sees the naming of an inquiry committee as a way to pressure Netanyahu over his attitude towards the party, his refusal to pass the state budget, the freezing of senior appointments and his constant threat of an early election. The straw that broke the camel’s back for Gantz’s people were statements made by Netanyahu’s associates this week, including the claim by one of his advisers that fulfillment of the rotation agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz in a year depended on the defense minister’s behavior.
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On Wednesday, Channel 12 News journalist Amnon Abramovich reported that Gantz is expected to set up the inquiry committee. Gantz responded to that report by saying, “As the defense minister has said himself a few times, the defense establishment was instructed to examine the option of setting up a committee to make a comprehensive examination of the procurement of the submarines and defensive vessels. When the examination ends and a decision is made, we will report.”
Straschnov, a reserve brigadier general, was the military judge-advocate general in the late 1980s, during the first intifada. He was later a Tel Aviv District Court judge and presided over many complex cases that involved security issues. Gantz met with him recently and offered him the chairmanship of the committee, which is expected to have two more members, including a senior retired officer with a professional background in naval procurement.
As previously reported, if the committee is established it will be based on a law that allows any minister to set up an inquiry committee on issues that fall within the realm of his authority.
Unlike an alternative proposal, which was to establish a military inquiry committee, there will be no restrictions on who can be called upon to testify. The committee can also make use of affidavits that were submitted by the Movement for Quality Government, as part of its petition to the High Court of Justice, which were signed by a series of former senior members of the defense establishment who have personal knowledge of how naval deals are made.