Opinion

Netanyahu, Clear Up the Submarine Scandal

Even the prime minister’s most loyal followers, who worry about a left-wing government and another chapter of peacemaking with the Palestinians, should be looking into the grave submarine affair

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, December 24, 2017.
Amir Cohen / Reuters

The low turnout at the demonstration organized by the right last Saturday night doesn’t attest to the right’s corruption or the blindness of Benjamin Netanyahu’s supporters to what’s going on. Above all, it shows a reasonable concern that such demonstrations may lead to the downfall of a right-wing government, ushering in a left-wing government and part three of the Oslo Accords.

We’ve been there before. Yitzhak Shamir’s government fell in 1992 after right-wing parties left the coalition following the Madrid peace conference. The Labor Party waged a brilliant campaign. It promised to invest in education, health and infrastructure, without saying a word about a Palestinian state. But as soon as Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister, Yossi Beilin and Shimon Peres popped up behind him, the Oslo Accords were crafted and a wave of terror attacks took a heavy toll with hundreds of victims.

The same thing happened in 1999. The Netanyahu government was dissolved amid internal discord. Ehud Barak’s election campaign stressed social affairs; he promised to invest in education and health. As soon as he was elected he ran off to the Camp David Summit, as the cost reached 1,000 dead in the second intifada.

There’s an old saying: Better corrupt than stupid. This is the dilemma now facing the right. Should the Netanyahu government be treated gently, the way the left treated the corrupt Ariel Sharon in exchange for a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip? Or should people on the right join the protesters against corruption, thus weakening the government, with the risk that instead they’ll get a government that withdraws from Judea and Samaria — and a concomitant wave of terror?

This dilemma comes up against a protagonist out of a Greek tragedy; all the affairs and investigations highlight a brilliant statesman with many achievements, but one who crashes because of a tragic character flaw and trivial shortcomings. On the one hand, Netanyahu’s objection to the nuclear deal with Iran is now bearing fruit in the shape of American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, closer ties with Sunni states as an effective means of opposing Iran, and a tightening of relations with India and countries in Europe and Africa.

On the other hand is Netanyahu’s addiction to the Golden Calf, the gifts and luxuries, the fawning on tycoons and his wheeling and dealing with the publisher of a mass-circulation newspaper in order to ensure positive coverage. This is almost paranoid, à la Richard Nixon, who couldn’t believe that the people would view him favorably based on his achievements, so he resorted to pathetic tricks that cost him his presidency.

But Netanyahu the person isn’t the main story. Even his most loyal followers, who worry about a left-wing government and an Oslo III, should be examining the particularly grave submarine affair. The attorney general has declared that Netanyahu isn’t a suspect in this affair.

If so, who was authorized to sign a letter to the German government that approved the sale of advanced submarines to Egypt? Doesn’t this letter and the entire affair, with all its ramifications, constitute the crossing of a red line, the selling of Israel’s security for a mess of pottage, as claimed by former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon?

I don’t believe the prime minister indulged in bribe-taking in the submarine affair. But he is obligated to tell the public how he managed not to know what was taking place under his nose among his closest advisers. He must explain his corrupt entourage's damage to Israel’s security and good name, and how he intends to correct this damage. His explanations, regardless of the police investigations into the matter, are what should determine the fate of his government.

Mor Altshuler is a historian.