Analysis

The Missing Piece in the Submarine Puzzle: What Did the Politicians Know?

Police may be trying to recruit a second Netanyahu ex-chief of staff as state’s witness

Netanyahu on board the INS Rahav, the fifth submarine in the fleet, after it arrived in the Haifa port January 12, 2016.
BAZ RATNER /REUTERS

The detention of six suspects on Sunday in the investigation of the procurement of submarines and patrol vessels reflects police efforts to ramp up the probe of the huge, controversial naval transactions that have been dubbed Case 3000. The identities of some of the latest suspects indicate that detectives are seeking to answer the question of if and how senior politicians were involved in these transactions.

The new developments in the investigation are mostly based on information provided by Michael Ganor, the local representative for the shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, who turned state’s evidence in July. But Ganor, based on what leaked from his testimony before a broad gag order was imposed on the investigation, could provide firsthand evidence primarily regarding what happened on the working level in the defense establishment – in the navy, the National Security Council and the Defense Ministry.

The most shocking revelation that leaked from his testimony was Ganor’s claim that David Shimron, a lawyer working for both Ganor and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (without the latter’s knowledge that they shared a lawyer, both Shimron and Netanyahu say), stood to make tens of millions of shekels from the deals. It’s doubtful, however, that Ganor has inside information on what happened in Netanyahu’s inner circle, or whether senior people working with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz were connected to the transactions. Another suspect in the case, Brig. Gen. (res.) Avriel Bar-Yosef, had worked with Steinitz for a few years.

According to leaks on Sunday, the police are seeking to recruit one of those arrested, David Sharan, a former Netanyahu bureau chief and before that an aide to Steinitz, as another witness for the state. Sharan, who is suspected of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust, had his custody extended for five days. Of course, this leak could be a deliberate deception aimed at putting pressure on other suspects. But if the information about trying to cut a deal with Sharan proves credible, there could only be one main reason for it: a desire to provide the missing puzzle piece – how the politicians fit into all this. If illegal actions were taken, Sharan is bound to know.

During the hearing on the extension of Sharan’s detention, and with the very limited information being leaked to the press, the police are being careful not to say anything linking Netanyahu or other politicians to the case. Of all the cases in which Netanyahu’s name has been mentioned, Case 3000 – in which Netanyahu is not considered a suspect – could have the most serious public ramifications. One can argue about the import of taking cigars and Champagne, and even about a deal to replace hostile coverage of Netanyahu with more favorable reporting. But if it emerges that state security was being compromised for money, that’s another story entirely.

One cannot help but wonder once again about Netanyahu’s reverse Midas touch; about how he has somehow managed over the years to surround himself with so many people suspected of crimes or disciplinary violations. Except for his military secretaries, against whom there have been no suspicions over the past eight years, it seems as if every second official in the Prime Minister’s Office has managed to get mixed up with something dicey.

When the submarine case broke out in November, after Bar-Yosef’s first arrest, there wasn’t just talk about the naval transactions but about aspects that touched on the natural gas program and the security arrangements being made for the gas fields in the Mediterranean. As previously reported by Haaretz, the navy brass succeeded in convincing the political echelon of the need for new ships by labeling them as boats to secure the gas. It seems as if some of the allegations being investigated now involve that aspect of the case.

David Sharan, former chief of staff for Israeli PM Netanyahu, was arrested September 3, 2017 in 'submarine affair.'
Tomer Appelbaum

Even now it’s clear that all efforts to belittle the importance of the investigation or its consequences are doomed to failure. The submarine-boats investigation is a wide-ranging case, and there are growing expectations of even more fish being reeled in, including people who served in senior, sensitive positions in the defense establishment and the IDF.

One of the suspects arrested Sunday is another retired navy brigadier general, who had previously served as commander of the naval commandos. His name, which may not yet be published, wouldn’t mean very much to the general public. But within the navy it’s a name that generates awe. We’re talking about a decorated combat commander who excelled in complex missions. When you add his name to those of the other senior officials we already know about, like Bar-Yosef and former Israel Navy commander Eliezer Marom, we can begin to understand the dimensions and seriousness of the case, and we are far from seeing the end of it.