The information that's been accumulating about the Israel-German submarine deal and its offshoots – affairs involving deployment of missile boats to guard offshore natural-gas drilling platforms, and the criminal corruption investigation launched against former senior National Security Council official Avriel Bar-Yosef – has raised questions about the shared version of events presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his lawyer, David Shimron.
- Netanyahu Must Be Investigated
- Netanyahu's Confidant Appointed Director in Firm Advising German Submarine Maker
- The Israeli Submarine Scandal: What We Know
It seems that Shimron has been a bit more active with respect to the deal than he would like us to think. At one point, he was pressuring the Histadrut labor federation to allow transferring maintenance of the submarines to a German shipyard; at another, he was taking an interest in whether Bar-Yosef has found a spot in the Haifa port for undertaking that maintenance; and at a third point, he called the Defense Ministry’s legal adviser (just to ask a question, he told Channel 10 news on Monday evening) about the decision to issue an international tender in order to procure the missile boats.
Make no mistake: Shimron comes to all these meetings and conversations wearing two hats: both as the representative of Michael Ganor, the Israeli middleman for ThyssenKrupp, the German shipyard that is supplying the subs – and also as a senior partner in one of the most powerful law firms in Israel: E.S. Shimron, I. Molho, Persky & Co. In the latter role, Shimron represents the prime minister in his personal affairs, while the firm's other major partner (Isaac Molho) is dispatched by Netanyahu on sensitive diplomatic missions all over the world.
And all this is happening despite the fact that the public has never received any information as to the nature of the obligations between any of the parties involved, and of course nothing about the amount of legal fees being paid for services rendered.
It is not clear what the participants in said conversations and meetings knew about Shimron’s role as lawyer for deal-broker Ganor (who is also, incidentally, a friend of Bar-Yosef). But there is no doubt whatsoever that they were aware that Shimron is Netanyahu’s lawyer and close confidant.
This is a real complication, and Netanyahu’s vehement renunciation of any knowledge about certain aspects of the affairs demands an exceptional amount of faith in the purity of the intentions of all the parties involved.
During the week that has passed since the submarine affair blew up, more and more extremely troubling information has been revealed concerning the actions of the defense establishment and various politicians – particularly those in Netanyahu's close circle.
First, this situation once again demonstrates the premier's general tendency to trust his personal representatives, who apparently bypass the usual government bodies, minimize cooperation with those bodies and sometimes even keep essential information from them.
Second – and this is certainly not an innovation from Netanyahu’s tenure in office – it emerges yet again that involvement of retired senior military officers in huge deals where, under the cover of “consultants,” they serve as middlemen who earn huge brokerage fees, is a phenomenon with a huge potential for corruption.
Third, we are also witnessing again the structural weakness of the National Security Council, which suffers from long-term erosion of its role and status as representing the prime minister when such deals are being struck, and whose job seems to be to justify his positions instead of presenting alternatives and critically examining the opinions of the various defense bodies.
And fourth, from what has emerged thus far, it seems that the Israel Defense Forces is groping in the dark when it comes to numerous details relating to the deal in question. In a matter of critical importance to national security, the military is receiving only partial information, and even that is delayed, too.
The purchase of additional submarines for the navy has far-reaching implications. It comes at the expense of other defense-related purchases, and the maintenance of the vessels is extremely expensive (according to some estimates, about 10 percent of the cost of the platforms, every year), as is the sophisticated training necessary for those involved. It seems that an examination of all these issues was done only in a superficial way, and without the systematic and organized involvement of the IDF.
In addition to all of this, there is the issue of significant information – relating to connections forged in an effort to advance the sub deal – that was ostensibly hidden from the previous defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon. Ya’alon was the last one to know about some of the developments in the contacts with the Germans.
The increasingly problematic nature of the affair has led so far to a criminal investigation against Bar-Yosef, whom Netanyahu was about to appoint as head of the NSC, and to a great deal of embarrassment for Netanyahu and Shimron. And this is not necessarily the end of it: Other testimony exists, which has yet to be examined, as to the alleged involvement of other senior government officials in what are at the very least improper processes.
Alongside suspicions of a conflict of interest, which Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has for now refused to investigate, a large amount of material will no doubt have to be investigated by the state comptroller as well.
On Monday, coalition whip MK David Bitan (Likud) – whose remarks are sometimes made without prior deliberation – tried clumsily to distance Netanyahu from the storm when he explained that the criticism of the submarine debacle should be directed at his attorney and not the client.
The Prime Minister’s Bureau is working overtime to exert pressure on journalists in order to stop the media snowball started by their Channel 10 colleague Raviv Drucker, who broke the sub story. The argument over the facts has been diverted to the political arena, a rather convenient court for Netanyahu, who has already presented this affair as yet another attempt to remove him from office without the need to resort to the ballot box.
At this stage it is still too early to know whether any real lessons will be gleaned from this whole fraught business, even if the attorney general does decide to open a criminal investigation relating to it. But it is not hard to figure out what lies behind the flood of information-packed declarations coming from the Prime Minister’s Bureau.
As in previous affairs (the various suspicions against Ehud Olmert, the scandal of the Harpaz document debacle), the profusion of data has created a confusing situation, in which a large part of the public cannot find anything to grab hold of.
By the end of last week, we had heard from Jerusalem that this was an old and spent affair, which the media was exploiting solely because of its obsession to bring down Netanyahu, the man who on Monday broke the record of David Ben-Gurion for serving the longest consecutive term as prime minister.