Netanyahu 'Crossed All Red Lines' in Submarine Sale Affair, Gantz Says

'You don't run a country through your cronies and cousins,' chief Netanyahu rival said in Washington, adding that defense officials are always told of state secrets after prime minister claims reasons for sale to Egypt are secret

Benny Gantz speaks to reporters on the sidelines of the AIPAC conference in Washington, March 24, 2019.
Noa Landau

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu crossed all red lines by running Israel through his cronies while leaving top defense officials in the dark, Benny Gantz, co-leader of the Kahol Lavan political alliance, said Sunday in a briefing with Israeli reporters on the sidelines of the annual AIPAC conference in Washington.

"I watched Netanyhau's interview on television and I am very, very disturbed," Gantz said, referring to the surprise interview Netanyahu gave to Israeli television Saturday night. "For 40 minutes he spoke only about Bibi, and nothing about Israel. Israel must come before everything else."

>> Israel's submarine affair was already serious. Then Netanyahu opened a Pandora's Box | Analysis

"All diplomatic and strategic business in Israel must occur through the authorities that are authorized to deal with the matter," Gantz added. "Approval of submarine sales to a neighboring country is not a special operation that happens in the dark of night, it has to come through the formal state institutions. You don't run a country through your cronies and cousins," he said.

Asked about the fact that Netanyahu did not update the chief of staff on the sale, Gantz said: "This crosses all the red lines and I do not know any state secret that the chief of staff and the defense minister are not exposed to."

Netanyahu was questioned, but not named as a suspect, in a probe related to a possible conflict of interest involving a $2 billion purchase of German submarines that implicated some of his closest associates. Netanyahu’s personal attorney, who is also his cousin, represented the German firm involved and is suspected of using his influence over the prime minister in return for a hefty cut of the deal.

On Sunday, in a surprise interview on Channel 12 news, his first in three years, the premier denied any wrongdoing in the affair, saying his reasons for approving the sale are "state secrets."

The Associated Press contributed background to this report.