Israeli Lawmakers Vote Down Comptroller Probe of Submarine Deal

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been accused of involvement in purchase of naval vessels from Germany that allegedly entailed bribery

Netael Bandel
Jonathan Lis
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Benjamin Netanyahu climbs out after a visit inside a submarine after it arrived in Haifa port, January 12, 2016.
Benjamin Netanyahu climbs out after a visit inside a submarine after it arrived in Haifa port, January 12, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Netael Bandel
Jonathan Lis

The State Control Committee voted on Monday not to order the state comptroller to investigate suspected corruption in Israel’s purchase of naval vessels from Germany.

The motion to investigate, proposed by committee chairman Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid, was rejected by a vote of 7-3. One of those who voted against was Kahol Lavan MK Hila Shay Vazan, even though she had previously termed the scandal “one of the worst in Israel’s history,” and her party accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of involvement in the affair during its campaign.

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Though several people have been charged in this case, Netanyahu was never investigated as a suspect.

Likud MK Miki Zohar threatened during the committee’s debate to get Shelah voted out as chairman if his motion passed.

Shelah’s motion formally asked the comptroller to probe “state agencies’ handling of the purchase of naval vessels from the ThyssenKrupp company and the decision-making process on this issue.” Aside from Shelah, it was supported by his two opposition colleagues, Yesh Atid's Karin Elharrar and the Joint List's Said al-Harumi.

The “no” votes all came from members of the governing coalition – Likud MKs Ofir Katz, Shlomo Karhi, Keti Shitrit and Tali Ploskov, plus Shas' Uriel Busso, United Torah Judaism's Yitzhak Pindrus and Shay Vazan.

Shelah argued during the meeting that the comptroller should have investigated the purchase even if there were no suspicion of corruption, and all the more so given that such suspicion exists.

“Netanyahu has a lot to hide and a lot to explain,” he added. “How did he decide on a sixth submarine when the defense establishment argues to this day that we only need five? That’s exactly what we have a comptroller for, and that’s exactly why Bibi ordered his people to prevent him from investigating.”

Zohar said during the meeting that “this may be one of the most important committees in the Knesset, and I would have thought that under no circumstances was it possible for this committee to become a tool for political harassment.

“You have no way of beating Netanyahu at the ballot box, and therefore, the only way, which you’re taking, is political and legal persecution of the prime minister,” Zohar continued. He then added a threat: “I’m not ruling out the possibility of looking into replacing you as chairman in light of your unprofessional conduct, which sullies the committee’s reputation.”

Two weeks ago, the High Court of Justice asked the state to respond to a petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel demanding that an investigation be opened into Netanyahu’s role in the submarine purchase.

The movement had previously conducted its own probe and collected affidavits from dozens of former senior defense officials. The petition said these affidavits showed that the decision-making process was suspicious to the point of endangering national security.

The petition requested that a state commission of inquiry be opened into Israel’s purchase of submarines and missile ships as well as the government’s agreement to let Germany sell advanced submarines to Egypt. It also asked that a criminal investigation be opened against Netanyahu over his stock transactions in a steel company with ties to ThyssenKrupp, and that the criminal investigation into the purchase of naval vessels be expanded to include Netanyahu as a suspect.

The scandal first erupted in November 2016 with an investigative report by the television news program “Hamakor.” It eventually sparked a criminal investigation into two deals between Israel and ThyssenKrupp – one for the purchase of three submarines priced at 1.5 billion euros ($1.68 billion), and the second for the purchase of missile ships to defend Israel’s offshore natural gas fields, priced at 430 million euros.

Eventually, several former senior officers, civil servants and people close to Netanyahu were charged with demanding and receiving bribes from ThyssenKrupp’s Israeli representative to promote the purchase of the vessels. However, Netanyahu was never investigated as a suspect in the case.

In July 2017, ThyssenKrupp’s Israeli representative, Miki Ganor, agreed to turn state’s evidence in the case. But he withdrew from that agreement in March 2019, claiming he originally signed due to “enormous pressure” by the police to say he had been bribed.

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