Interior Minister Arye Dery tore into Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday over the latter's decision to form an inquiry committee into claims of corruption by Prime Minister Benjamin Netnyahu, saying he "doubts" whether the Netanyahu-Gantz government, of which he is member, should remain in power.
The so-called submarine affair deals with claims that Netanyahu intervened in a deal to buy submarines from a German company against the security establishment's position. Senior Israeli army officers, public officials and a number of people close to Netanyahu are suspected of demanding and receiving bribes to advance the deals with Germany’s ThyssenKrupp.
According to Shas leader Dery, Gantz "crossed a red line" by announcing the probe on Sunday, which he said would turn the army into political propaganda and may reveal classified information.
Dery added that even though he supported the unity government formed by Gantz's party and Netanyahu's Likud, "given the recent behavior, I am doubting whether there is justification and benefits to continuing in this partnership."
Speaking at a Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu accused Gantz of using the army for political gain. Calling it "a great disgrace," Netanyahu said the committee is fixed and is aimed only at garnering votes in a future election.
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Gantz's Kahol Lavan party sees forming the inquiry committee as a way to pressure Netanyahu over his attitude toward the party, his refusal to pass the state budget, the freezing of senior appointments and his constant threat of an early election.
The submarine affair has become a central element in the protests against Netanyahu, where demonstrators have carried inflatable submarines inscribed with slogans like “S.S. Investigation.” Protesters are calling for an inquiry committee into the affair, as well as demanding that Netanyahu to step down in light of his corruption charges.
The affair involves an agreement with ThyssenKrupp to buy submarines and patrol boats; the latter would protect Israel’s natural gas rigs in the Mediterranean. At issue in these agreements, worth 1.5 billion euros and 430 million euros, respectively, are the dealings between top Israeli officials and ThyssenKrupp’s representative in Israel.
The High Court of Justice deliberated for over a month as to whether to establish an inquiry committee into the matter. For Gantz's people, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the statements made by Netanyahu’s associates this week, including the claim made by one of his advisers that whether Gantz would take over as prime minister in a year, as per the rotation agreement with Netanyahu, depended on the defense minister's behavior.
In October, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud annulled a Knesset vote that approved a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the submarine affair. The vote, held electronically, had the majority of Knesset members approving opening the commission. Coalition Whip Miki Zohar, also of Likud, claimed that he had demanded a roll-call vote rather than an electronic one, and that his electronic vote did not register. Levin then annulled the results of the vote, saying that the first vote had either not been announced or was said "softly." The measure was shot down in a second vote.