Analysis

Israeli Police Closing in on Netanyahu's Inner Circle in Submarine Graft Scandal

Netanyahu's closest advisers had two main arguments to deflect blame off of the prime minister in Israel's submarine corruption affair. But Netanyahu's 'great wall' seems to be crumbling

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the London Stock Exchange in London, Britain, November 3, 2017.
EDDIE KEOGH/REUTERS

Throughout the police investigation into the purchase of submarines and patrol boats for the Israel Navy, dubbed Case 3000, members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle had two main arguments. The first was that even though a few of the prime minister’s closest associates were involved in the deal, above all his lawyer David Shimron, Netanyahu knew nothing and thus was not suspected of anything (a claim reinforced by the state prosecutor’s extraordinary announcement in February).

The second was that Shimron was all alone in the deal, because although his law firm has close ties with Netanyahu on other issues, only Shimron had anything to do with the submarines, as the lawyer for the deal’s broker, Michael Ganor, who turned state’s evidence.

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The “great wall” between the law firm’s parts were meant to deflect claims of conflict of interest that would have brought the suspicions a degree closer to the prime minister himself. But it seems that the police and the prosecutions no longer accept this argument so willingly. Proof can be found in the summoning for questioning on Sunday morning of Shimron, along with an individual described as the prime minister’s confidant whose name was barred from publication. The possibility that for years this was the pattern – Shimron dealt with the submarine and boat deals on Ganor’s behalf (and both stood to benefit financially) while the confidant dealt with many related matters, and yet the prime minister still remained ignorant – raises serious question marks, at the very least.

Netanyahu seems to be in an unenviable position. Ganor, who has already signed a state’s witness agreement, has raised criminal suspicions against others in the case. Shimron and the confidant find themselves in rather unusual and tense circumstances and many additional suspects, some closer to the top than others, have already been questioned.

No politician, however honest, wants to be in a situation where the people closest to him are in the grip of the police and the prosecution. As if this weren’t enough, the investigation of two close associates deprives Netanyahu of his habit of consulting with them on a host of other issues, diplomatic, political and legal.

Recent developments could explain the ultra-aggressive line of the Prime Minister’s Office in recent weeks, from the bald, public attack on Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich to the frenzy of draft laws on investigation protocol that Likud MKs close to Netanyahu are sponsoring. Slowly but surely, the bans on publication will be peeled away, starting with the name of the second associate and continuing with the contents of Ganor’s statements to police.

This is not a comfortable time for Netanyahu, even as he completes another diplomatically successful visit to Britain and boasts of the video he uploaded to social media on his participation in the Balfour Declaration’s centennial celebration and the honor of ringing the opening bell of the London Stock Exchange.

Netanyahu’s “pickles” reference during his speech in the Knesset two weeks ago was replaced Sunday with a different culinary reference. After the questioning of the premier’s two associates was announced, someone described as a senior member of Netanyahu’s entourage in London was quoted as advising journalists to “squeeze two-three lemons and drink the juice, to wipe the smiles off their faces.” The lack of consistency in tastes aside, it seems these images convey a certain panic.