Court Hears of 'Extremely Unreasonable' Decisions by Netanyahu Associates in Submarine Affair

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 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks up while aboard a boat off the coast of Haifa during his visit to a naval base, November 17, 2009
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks up while aboard a boat off the coast of Haifa during his visit to a naval base, November 17, 2009Credit: REUTERS

Dozens of Israeli defense officials told the High Court of Justice the purchase of submarines and missile boats from German industrial group ThyssenKrupp was unnecessary, contradicting claims made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his associates. The officials’ statements, filed by the court following a petition calling to reopen an investigation into alleged corruption in the so-called “submarine affair,” were revealed on Friday by Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. They reinforce the claim that Netanyahu and his associates made decisions that were contrary to the defense establishment’s needs, pointing to pressure exerted by the prime minister to promote the huge deal.

The “submarine affair” deals with negotiations between Israel and ThyseenKrupp about five years ago, focusing on two deals in particular: one regarding the 1.5-billion-euro purchase of three submarines, and the other a 430-million-euro purchase of missile boats intended to defend Israel’s offshore natural gas drilling rigs. Senior military officials, public servants and other officials connected to Netanyahu are suspected of demanding and taking bribes for promoting these deals.

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The Yedioth Ahronoth report details dozens of statements by senior figures who attest to a strong stance at the time in the Israel Defense Forces and the greater defense establishment against purchasing more submarines. “Decisions [in the deals with ThyssenKrupp] were made in a very hurried fashion, in a way that contradicts existing data and professional work,” one official is quoted telling the court. He also spoke of “Personal involvement of business figures,” and compliance with “Unreasonable demands set by the prime minister himself, partially rooted in the greed of figures in close contact with decision-makers.”

The IDF currently has five submarines. The statements reveal that the oldest one still has about 15 years of operation ahead of it, showing that the claim that the old submarines would have to be replaced soon is baseless. According to one court statement, authored by a senior defense official, the National Security Council ruled that there is no operational need for more than five submarines. “The financial cost of a sixth submarine is well known, and to the best of my understanding … this is a waste of public funds,” he said.

Netanyahu and people close to him have argued that defense officials backed the decision to buy a sixth submarine, but these statements show otherwise. “The enormous expenditure comes at the cost of other needs the IDF has, and therefore this constitutes damage to Israel’s security, based on ulterior motives,” one of the statements said.

A new submarine (L) built for the Israeli Navy at the site of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems in Kiel, Germany, April 4, 2013Credit: CARSTEN REHDER / AFP

Court seeks clarifications

Following the statements given as part of the petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, the High Court ordered those involved in the affair, including Netanyahu, Alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, to respond. The court will decide whether to reopen the case based on their responses.

In December, the State Prosecutor’s Office announced plans to indict Netanyahu’s attorney and confidant David Shimron for money laundering. It also plants to indict former Israel Navy commander Eliezer Marom for bribery, money laundering and tax evasion, and five other former officials with bribery, breach of trust, money laundering, tax evasion and other charges. Netanyahu himself is not a suspect in this case.

Businessman Miki Ganor, Thyssenkrupp’s representative in Israel, will be charged — pending a hearing — with bribery, money laundering, tax evasion and campaign financing violations. Ganor turned state’s witness in 2017, but recanted in March 2019.

Netanyahu said in response to the report that it only provided “Old information that had been thoroughly examined by law enforcement officials and the former state prosecutor, who all determined it proves nothing.” The prime minister went on to accuse the “radical left” petitioners with cherry-picking the officials they requested statements from.

Businessman Miki Ganor, Thyssenkrupp’s representative in Israel, Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court, March 24, 2019Credit: Moti Milrod

“It seems there’s those who understand that a few cigars from friends and a few reports on Walla won’t be enough to take down the prime minister,” Netanyahu added, referring to the indictments against him in three corruption cases, “and they’re now trying to fuel the slanderous submarine campaign instead.”

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