Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied any financial connection to the sale of German submarines to Egypt on Saturday evening and said his reasons for approving the sale are "state secrets." In addition, Netanyahu admitted that the decision was made without the involvement of the defense minister and the chief of staff.
In a surprise interview on Channel 12 news, his first in three years, the premier denied any wrongdoing in the submarine affair and addressed recent allegations about his investments in the Seadrift steel factory.
Netanyahu noted that he purchased the steel shares with his own money while serving as a Knesset member, contradicting his previous version, according to which he bought them while he was not in office.
"I want to blow up this entire blood libel," Netanyahu said. According to him, Steeldrift "was a company with great technological capacity but it was managed poorly."
By Netanyahu’s account, in 2007, while he was opposition leader, he acquired shares in the Texas-based company Seadrift Coke, which was managed by his cousin, Nathan Milikowsky.
Seadrift was later acquired by Ohio-based GrafTech International, a maker of materials needed for steelmaking, which was a supplier to German industrial group ThyssenKrupp. The German company later sold submarines to Israel and Egypt.
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According to the prime minister, he sold the shares in November 2010, a year and a half after becoming prime minister. "There is no connection between the investment I made and the submarines," the premier said. "I sold all my shares in this company a year and a half before the first submarine was sold. There is no essential connection."
Netanyahu gave the interview before departing for Washington, where he is expected to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump and address the annual AIPAC Policy Conference.
The prime minister said that he could not reveal his reasons for authorizing the sale of submarines to Egypt because they are state secrets. "My reasons are security reasons and security reasons alone. The State of Israel has secrets that only the prime minister knows and a handful of people."
Germany had not needed Israel’s formal approval for the sale to Egypt, but because of the special relationship between Israel and Germany, Berlin approached Israel on the issue.
The premier went on to address claims that reports regarding the alleged profits he made from the submarine sale were circulated to hurt him. "This came out when it became clear that the Iranians hacked into Benny Gantz's phone," the prime minister said, seemingly suggesting that the report was published to hurt his standing among voters so that he wouldn't gain from the hit his main opponent Gantz suffered.
Earlier this month, it was reported that Iranian intelligence breached the device of Gantz, the co-chair of the political alliance Kahol Lavan. The latter confirmed the report.
Netanyahu went on to blast the former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, saying: "These elections are about if we'll allow a leftist government headed by Gantz and Lapid who are dressing themselves up as right or center-right."
Asked whether he would promote a law that would block his indictment if elected in the April 9 ballot, Netanyahu replied: "No way, I didn't deal with this and I do not plan to deal with this. I believe I won't do something like this."
He added that the Likud party he heads will "stand against Iranian pressure. Ten generals won't help if we don't have the right policy. They will support an Iran deal."
Netanyahu also went after other members of Kahol Lavan who accused him of corruption in the submarine affair: Co-founder Yair Lapid and members Moshe Ya'alon and Gabi Ashkenazi.
The prime minister said he intended to sue the four, adding: "Gantz, Bogie [Ya'alon] and Ashkenazi are telling a tale because they know I can't reveal one of Israel's state secrets here on live television."
Kahol Lavan issued a response following Netanyahu's interview, calling him "hysterical."
"He changes his version of events again and again, avoids difficult questions and continues to slander. We got no answers about his 16 million shekels in profits. If there was a secret, which there isn’t because he just invented it, why did he agree to sell advanced submarines to Egypt without alerting the security establishment?" the statement read, adding:
"The only thing that can be said to his merit is that he has finally internalized what others have already figured out: He’s going to lose the election."