Cabinet Expected to Approve Inquiry Into Submarine Affair Involving Netanyahu Associates

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett still not sure whether or not he will vote in favor or against of an official inquiry, which Defense Minister Gantz dubbed as 'a national need'

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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Prime Minister Naftali Bennet, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar in the Knesset in November.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennet, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar in the Knesset in November.
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

The cabinet is expected to approve the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair, which involves alleged improprieties by high-ranking officials and associates of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the purchase of navy vessels from a German shipbuilder.

The vote on the commission will take place at the next cabinet meeting on Sunday, statements from Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said. A hearing on the matter was originally supposed to take place a week later, but it was pushed up.

While most ministers are expected to vote in favor, sources close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Haaretz that he has not yet decided whether to vote in favor or against the commission of inquiry. Until now, Bennett has opposed the move because he feared that establishing an inquiry commission would foil a future transaction with Germany, and since the public may perceive the move as targeting Netanyahu. The deal with the shipbuilder, Thyssenkrupp, is to be signed next week, which removes one of the hurdles Bennett faces.

“Establishing a commission of inquiry is a necessary step to safeguarding the security of Israel. This is a national need,” Gantz said in a statement.

A submarine of the Israeli navy in 2018.

Lapid’s message added, “We promised the Israeli public that we will not give up on investigating this scandal – and we kept it. The submarine and warships affair is the most serious security corruption scandal in the history of Israel, and we'll demand that no stone will be left unturned in order to arrive at an honest investigation.”

In July, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced that they had agreed to work together to examine Gantz’s proposal to form the commission of inquiry. Their joint announcement noted that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit would be involved in the process due to the criminal proceedings ongoing in the affair.

The so-called submarine affair involves two arms deals between Israel and the German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. In the first deal, Israel purchased three submarines worth 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion). In the second, Israel bought missile ships, valued at 430 million euros (about $481 million), for the purpose of protecting Israel’s offshore natural gas platforms.

According to indictments that have already been filed in the case, senior military officers, government officials and associates of Netanyahu demanded and received bribes to promote the deals. The central claim against Netanyahu, who has not been indicted in the case, is that he is suspected of initiating the purchase of additional submarines for the navy despite objections from the defense establishment.

In his proposal to establish a commission in October, Gantz wrote that proceedings leading up to the purchase of the submarines and warships “which took place between 2009-2016 are of major public importance at this time, and require clarification.”

Gantz added the commission of inquiry would examine the inner workings and the decision-making of diplomats in the deal and give its opinion on current policy relating to the warship and submarine purchases. The commission, however, would not be able to investigate those indicted in criminal proceedings, and cannot determine conclusions, findings or recommendations in matters relating to them.

According to Gantz’s proposal, the process of acquiring warships is a sensitive national security matter, and the committee’s discussion will therefore be held behind closed doors, even if the commission does not discuss classified information. It adds that the commission of inquiry will cost nine million shekels (about $2.9 million), to be covered by the defense and justice ministries.

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