Analysis

Netanyahu, the Man Who Wasn't Investigated

It's interesting that Israel's prime minister isn’t a suspect in 'Case 3000,' the boats-and-submarines graft affair

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu climbs out after a visit inside the Rahav, the fifth submarine in Israel's fleet, after it arrived from Germany. January 12, 2016.
Baz Ratner, Reuters

Avichai Mendelblit is a very cautious man. The attorney general confirms progress in investigations only one step at a time. If on Monday the police detained six of those involved in the submarines and Israel Navy patrol boats acquisition deals for questioning, that’s a sign that they have accumulated enough information to convince Mendelblit that a surprise investigation is in order – the suspects were picked up from home early in the morning. The element of surprise has probably become eroded during the long months of waiting until now.

Progress in the naval affairs, aka Case 3000, may be more comfortable for the attorney general because according to the State Prosecutor’s Office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not suspected of anything connected to them. This will apparently spare Mendelblit the expected onslaught if and when police recommend prosecuting the prime minister in Cases 1000 (Netanyahu’s gifts from wealthy benefactors) and 2000 (an alleged deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes).

>> Israeli submarine scandal: What you need to know as the probe gets closer to Netanyahu >>

But even without proof of a direct connection to the prime minister, and when the state prosecutor is still far from filing indictments, it’s hard to downplay the importance of the boats-and-submarines affair. These are huge deals, worth billions of euros, for the purchase of expensive combat systems of strategic importance. The police are investigating suspicions against a number of key defense establishment officials, in the prime minister’s surroundings and in the business sector.

Based on the reports until now, the decision-making process was, at the least, peripatetic and dubious; attorney David Shimron, the prime minister’s attorney and associate, represented the Israel intermediary in the deal, who received huge sums in mediation fees (Netanyahu and Shimron both deny that the prime minister knew about it); the previous intermediary in the transactions with the Germans was ousted from the negotiations under pressure from those involved; and at the same time there was an attempt to wrest control over the lucrative long-term maintenance of the naval vessels.

Bigger than Dotan affair of '80s

This affair appears to be no less extensive than that of Brig. Gen. Rami Dotan in the Israel Air Force in the 1980s, who was convicted of bribery related to military procurement, but here there is even more money involved and more senior officials suspected of crimes.

Shimron is described as a key figure. His law firm partner Isaac Molho has yet to be questioned. Together the two handle all the prime minister’s affairs – private, political and even governmental. Shimron handled the fees of submarine deal intermediary Michael Ganor, while Molho dealt with secret missions on Netanyahu’s behalf, but was also involved in diplomatic and security contacts with the German government. And all that ostensibly without Netanyahu’s knowledge. Shimron and Molho are partners: When Shimron charges Ganor professional fees, he’s doing it for both of them. This situation is liable to put Molho in a conflict of interest.

Netanyahu is in regular contact with Molho and Shimron. The Prime Minister’s Office is trying hard to describe Netanyahu as Mr. Security, who is preoccupied solely with guaranteeing Israel’s defense. Is it possible that all the activity of Shimron, Ganor and Avriel Bar Yosef in connection with these transactions took place under Netanyahu’s nose without his noticing anything? These issues require examination at least.

Most of Molho’s activity, at the premier’s instructions, takes place without any involvement or knowledge of the foreign and defense ministries. Molho reports only to Netanyahu. As part of his job, Molho had to fill out a form declaring conflict of interest. Was there any mention of his firm’s involvement in the navy deals? Shimron, who represents Netanyahu in his private affairs, is apparently exempt from filling out these forms.

The forms are kept in the State Comptroller’s Office. Shimron is said to have been involved in the contacts that preceded the appointment of State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, and since then has been pressuring Shapira whenever his office angers the PMO.

The police and the State Prosecutor’s Office are still sitting on most of the information about the progress of the investigation, so it’s hard to estimate whether the huge amount of information will lead to indictments. But our present information is enough to understand that these transactions were conducted in a tortuous manner – and with minimal supervision by the cabinet and government, not to mention the National Security Council.