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The Unsinkable Truth About the Submarines Affair

Uri Misgav
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At a demonstration, a bike as vehicle for protest displays the number '3000,' a reference to the submarine corruption affair, dubbed Case 3,000 by the police, Jerusalem, October 14, 2020.
At a demonstration, a bike as vehicle for protest displays the number '3000,' a reference to the submarine corruption affair, dubbed Case 3,000 by the police, Jerusalem, October 14, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Uri Misgav

The submarines affair refuses to sink. Ultimately the truth will surface. Haaretz recently published two defense briefs by Netanyahu partisans Mor Altshuler and Yaakov Amidror, who sought to provide explanations and hypotheses for the multiple weighty questions the affair raises.

Honestly, if these essays are the best the defense has to offer, they just go to show why this episode demands thorough investigation.

The timing is understandable. This is a critical point: just days ago Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit handed down his decision to close the case of Netanyahu’s holdings in steel shares without further investigation. The High Court will be imminently ruling on a petition by the Movement for Quality Government to reopen the case. Meanwhile, the submarines have taken center stage in the grassroots protest against the prime minister, which rose to an impressive new level last week as 5,000 cars decked out with model subs on their roofs made their way to Jerusalem, cheered on by thousands more demonstrators along the roads and bridges.

The article by Amidror, who served as head of the National Security Council under Netanyahu at the start of the decade, cannot go unanswered and this is a good opportunity to reorganize the big picture. Amidror begins “The Truth about the Submarine Affair” (Haaretz, October 21) thusly: “The ‘submarines question’ is really three different questions: 1. Does Israel need a sixth submarine? 2. The matter of Israel’s agreement to sell a submarine to Egypt. 3. Who needs nine submarines?”

Never mind Amidror’s answers. Let us respond in the spirit of his pal Netanyahu: These are not the right questions. And it’s not even the correct name for the affair. Its correct name is the submarines-ships-shares affair, and here are the right questions to ask:

1. Why did Netanyahu insist that Israel buy three new submarines costing 1.5 billion euros from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems in stark opposition to the views of all Israel’s defense chiefs, including the defense minister and chief of staff?

2. Why didn’t buying submarines appear in the army’s strategic five-year “Gideon Plan,” and why was their purchase arranged via a private loan (from Bank Discount) for the first time in the country’s history, albeit with the approval of Finance Ministry Accountant General Michal Abadi-Boiangiu?

3. Why did Netanyahu conceal his approval for Germany to sell advanced submarines to Egypt from the entire defense establishment, including the army and the intelligence agencies, which they learned of it through their own intelligence-gathering? (Amidror claims this was a “stupid mistake” – if so, then why did Netanyahu deny it when asked about it at the time, leaving Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon having to ask President Rivlin to inquire about the matter during his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was stunned by the question?)

Protesters install a replica of a submarine with the slogan 'Follow the money' inscribed, Habima Sq., Tel Aviv, August 17, 2020.
Protesters install a replica of a submarine with the slogan 'Follow the money' inscribed, Habima Sq., Tel Aviv, August 17, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

4. Why did Netanyahu throw all his weight behind scuttling a scheduled international tender for the purchase of four boats to defend Israel’s offshore gas rigs?

5. Why were German boats costing 430 million euros selected without tender, even though there was a South Korean option on the table for smaller, cheaper boats that met the operational specifications?

6. Why did various Netanyahu associates, who have since been charged in the affair, press to privatize the maintenance of the submarines and boats which has always been handled at Haifa Port, and transfer it to German hands (which ultimately didn’t happen)?

7. Is it really possible that attorney David Shimron, Netanyahu’s relative and long-time lawyer who has been indicted in the case, didn’t tell Netanyahu that he was also representing sales agent Miki Ganor and that both were working on behalf of ThyssenKrupp to promote the submarines and ships deal?

8. According to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ganor (who turned state’s witness) told investigators that he hired Shimron due to the latter’s close ties with the prime minister and with other top government officials. Ganor said he and Shimron referred to Netanyahu as “the friend” when they spoke about the deal, and dubbed attorney Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu’s diplomatic emissary who was also investigated in the case, as “the brother-in-law.” According to Ganor, when he asked Shimron how the deal was progressing, Ganor told him: ‘I’ll ask the brother-in-law and he’ll speak with the friend.’” Shouldn’t “friend” Netanyahu be questioned as to whether “brother-in-law” Molcho spoke with him at Shimron’s request using Ganor as a go-between?

8. Why and on what basis did State Attorney Shay Nitzan and Attorney General Mendelblit initially state “there is no suspicion of any criminal offense” when the affair was first revealed; and after it became evident that criminal offenses by Netanyahu’s closest associates and relations were suspected, why did they hasten to announce that Netanyahu was not a suspect in the case – even before the suspicions against the others, which in fact led to grave charges, had been fully clarified?

10. Senior defense officials at the time of the deal submitted affidavits to the High Court of Justice in support of the current petition. Why did the government call on the High Court to classify these affidavits? If everything is legal and proper, what is there to hide? And who benefits from this concealment?

11. Why wasn’t there a timely and thorough investigation into the steel shares? It turns out that Netanyahu bought and sold shares in SeaDrift, a steel company owned by his cousin Nathan Milikowsky, earning about 16 million shekels in profit in a short period of time, just as SeaDrift became a key supplier of ThyssenKrupp, making a fortune on the three submarines and four ships deal?

12. During the past decade, leaders and top defense officials in Greece, South Africa and Portugal have been investigated, tried and received heavy sentences following deals worth billions but of dubious necessity, to buy submarines from ThyssenKrupp. Thorough investigation revealed the deals to have involved bribery. Shouldn’t this pattern of action demand a comprehensive investigation in the Israeli instance as well?

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