Why Netanyahu Should Be Pleased Over the Submarine Affair Inquiry

And why Gantz finally did the right thing

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz during a swearing-in ceremony of the new government in Jerusalem, May 17, 2020
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz during a swearing-in ceremony of the new government in Jerusalem, May 17, 2020Credit: ADINA VALMAN / KNESSET SPOKESPER
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The one person who should wholeheartedly welcome the establishment of a governmental inquiry committee to investigate “the procurement of submarines and naval vessels” is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

For years, he has been protesting his innocence, good faith and complete ignorance of the actions of the people closest to him in the worst case of defense-related corruption in Israel’s history. Now, finally, his arguments can receive an official stamp of approval from an unbiased panel headed by a former judge, whose two other members are people well-versed in the issue – a former commander of the navy and a former director of procurement for the Prime Minister’s Office who also worked in procurement at the Defense Ministry.

The public will get to hear testimony from senior defense officials like reservist major generals Amos Gilead and Amos Yadlin and former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, who are all interviewed regularly, and their calm, well-reasoned statements arouse deep shock. But this time, they and other current and former military and defense officials will face a judge.

Most of their testimony will be published. And they, too, will presumably bolster Netanyahu’s claims that his behavior was unblemished, solely for the sake of national security, and that the concealment from the defense minister and the army’s chief of staff was due to an ultra-classified secret that they weren’t allowed to know – very hush-hush.

Perhaps the committee will invite President Reuven Rivlin to testify. In May 2015, he was asked by then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel why Germany agreed to sell strategic submarines to Egypt without Israel’s okay. Merkel looked at him in astonishment. “But you did approve it,” she said. Later, a written authorization was also discovered.

There are so many issues to delve into, so many sources of corruption to cleanse, though the circumstances from which the investigation arises are not so pristine themselves. The only thing that led Kahol Lavan chairman and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to do the right thing, a moment before the Knesset dissolves, was his own political distress, and that his party is nosediving in popularity. But to what scandal is the phrase “better late than never” more appropriate than this one?

A protester wearing a mask representing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pictured next to a banner with a submarine during a demonstration on November 11, 2020Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP

Two “senior” Likud members, Miki Zohar and Ofir Akunis, quickly jumped to the head of the line to assert that Gantz’s decision means early elections. Why? What do “procurement processes,” “working relations,” “areas of responsibility” and “the role of middlemen” have to do with elections? And aren’t we heading to elections in any case, since the prime and finance ministers have delayed passing the state budget with malice aforethought simply because the Netanyahu family refuses to vacate the prime minister’s residence in Gantz’s favor (despite having promised to do so “with no tricks and no shtick.”)

Netanyahu’s stupid loyalists are sticking to the hastily drafted talking points cited above. But the Netanyahu family’s saboteur in chief, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, checked and raised them, announcing that he might set up an inquiry committee into the cybersecurity company Fifth Dimension.

While Fifth Dimension’s conduct in lying to obtain police contracts, which occurred while Gantz was the company’s chairman, is questionable, it is a mere fly compared to the elephant of the submarines case, and involves no suspicion of criminal conduct. Instead of political trolling, Ohana should order an investigation into how the police force has been purged of the people who investigated Netanyahu’s cases, how it failed to enforce the coronavirus regulations while making deals with rabbis, and why elderly demonstrators are being sent to the hospital due to police brutality even as hundreds of violent assaults on demonstrators by rightists have produced no indictments.

Gantz gave the committee four months to produce its “final” report, according to a statement issued by his office. That’s a good trick. In another four months, Israel is likely to be holding elections.

The prevailing opinion, however, is that Gantz, who also holds the title of alternate prime minister, chose to issue his announcement on Sunday to dispel the bad odor left by his embarrassing deal to appoint a director general for the alternate prime minister’s office – which is roughly as vital as appointing a driver for a bus with no engine or wheels – in exchange for approving the vitally important appointment of a Finance Ministry accountant general.

If the rotation of the prime minister’s job isn’t going to happen, which by now Gantz concedes, and new elections will be held in March and April in any case, what do we need this ridiculous appointment for? And why conceal it from the other members of his party’s leadership, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (whom Netanyahu has prevented even from appointing a director general for his own ministry, not to mention a new state prosecutor) and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi?

This may not be the procurement of submarines, but it’s neither smart nor fair. Somebody around Gantz (apparently that indispensable director general, Hod Betzer) is leading him in the wrong direction and strewing homemade mines in his path.

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