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Netanyahu Must Be Questioned Under Caution in Submarine Affair

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanuyahu stands on top of a new submarine, 'INS Tanin,' at Haifa port, September 23, 2014.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanuyahu stands on top of a new submarine, 'INS Tanin,' at Haifa port, September 23, 2014.Credit: קובי גדעון / לע"מ

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must be questioned under caution in the submarine affair. From the fog created by his changing versions, the following picture emerges: In 2006, MK Netanyahu, at the time a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, received from his cousin Nathan Milikowsky shares in a company that counts Thyssenkrupp, the owner of the shipyard that builds Israel’s submarines, as a major client. These shares were sold for $4 million at the end of 2010. At the time of sale, Netanyahu had been prime minister for a year and a half. There is no proof that Netanyahu ever paid for these shares. It’s also unclear what he reported to tax authorities and the State Comptroller.

Netanyahu worked, then and in following years, to increase Israel’s submarine flotilla, while another cousin, David Shimron, was looking after Netanyahu’s financial affairs, including his ties with Milikowsky, while at the same time representing Thyssenkrupp. In 2015 Netanyahu and his associates tried to push through a decision that included multiple elements: the purchase of three further submarines that were not needed, the purchase of two anti-submarine vessels, which had never been discussed, and ensuring that the purchase of missile boats for protecting natural gas rigs would be from Thyssenkrupp. In addition, there was an attempt to privatize Israel’s naval shipyard.

>> Read more: Reopen the investigation into the submarine affair | Editorial ■ Israel's submarine affair is serious. Then Netanyahu opened a Pandora's box | Analysis

Moreover Netanyahu, on his own and without consulting the defense minister, wrote German Chancellor Angela Merkel to inform her that Israel was withdrawing its objection to Germany’s sale of advanced submarines to Egypt. This was discovered during a visit to Germany by President Reuven Rivlin. Some people argue that the decision was within Netanyahu’s authority, but that is not the case. It’s true that in the purchase of submarines the prime minister has a different standing than in the purchase of armored personnel carriers or helicopters, but over dozens of years in which Israel’s strategic capabilities took shape, work procedures included the principle that every significant decision is taken jointly, after consultation and coordination between the prime minister and the minister of defense.

When I decided in 1999 to serve as both prime minister and defense minister, I met the attorney general, and it was decided that the foreign minister would be someone else. This is what Yitzhak Rabin did before me.

Netanyahu’s taking that decision on his own and his attempt to conceal it is scandalous. This is a breach of trust in the holy of holies of Israel’s security systems, raising heavy suspicions of bribery and criminal wrongdoing.

From this week’s events: Retired Judge Awni Habash resigned from the State Comptroller’s permits committee, citing “political pressure” as his reason. The committee he headed decided twice that Netanyahu may not receive financial assistance for his legal defense from businessmen who were themselves questioned in the “lavish gifts” affair, Case 1000, one of the cases he is embroiled in. Everyone is invited to guess where this pressure came from.

Many people came to Netanyahu’s defense, arguing that he has a right to receive such assistance, but they are mistaken. The regulation that allows a public servant or elected official to receive such financial aid applies only to cases in which that person is defending himself over something done while fulfilling his duties. Thus, for example, Ariel Sharon was entitled to such help in the case of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. The Shin Bet officials in the Bus 300 affair were also entitled to such help. However, there is no place to help someone suspected of bribery and fraud, just as we wouldn’t dream of helping someone accused of rape or armed robbery. It would be better to say that he could be compensated for his legal expenses if found innocent.

Secondly, state witness Miki Ganor retracted his testimony. Among the reasons were that he did not wish to be called a “traitor,” along with his having second thoughts about the implications of his testimony for some of those suspected of bribery. We’ve heard rumors about “second thoughts” on the part of other state witnesses as well. One should remember that one of the reasons given for the fact that state prosecutors refrained from revealing the testimony against Netanyahu was a possible threat against the safety of state witnesses or their willingness to testify. Again, anyone can hazard a guess as to the source of such threats.

A third note: Someone stealing 3,500 shekels (nearly $1,000) may end up in jail, while a woman suspected of fraudulently taking (and not for the first time) 350 thousand shekels is in the midst of a mediation process, the decision on which was deferred until after the election. Years have passed since these transgressions took place, and state prosecutors are begging her to agree to admit to an alternative formula of “obtaining something by deception” in exchange for a major reduction in her sentence. This is after five or six other cases that this same woman was involved in were closed by the attorney general a year ago, without any explanation, to this day, of his reasons for doing so. This is how the principle of “equality before the law” is marching to its doom.

When one remembers earlier attorney generals such as Shamgar, Barak and Zamir, or former prime ministers such as Rabin, Shamir and Begin, one realizes how far we’ve come, how grave is the path we’re on and how urgent and vital it is to change it before it’s too late.

Gantz’s mobile phone

I met with a small group of cyber experts, right after the news broke that Iran was denying that it hacked Benny Gantz’s phone. I asked: if the Iranians were telling the truth, what is this about? One of the people present said: “I don’t know what really happened, but this thing is much simpler and easier than it seems. Imagine a scenario in which a person in someone’s campaign, who is active in this area, calls for a phishing expedition on Gantz’s phone. A young person connected to the campaign can sit in Tel Aviv, London or Kiev and send Gantz an email supposedly originating with an acquaintance or with Amazon. When Gantz innocently types ‘open,’ the contents of his mobile device, his WhatsApp, messages and contacts are sucked up from his device.”

According to this expert, “Tens of thousands of hackers do this daily, and millions of such files are on sale on the internet. When the contents of Gantz’s phone are in the hands of some young hacker, it’s easy to send it anonymously to an open Iranian address such as a consulate. The consulate will pass it on to Iranian security agencies and sooner or later a friendly security service or Israel’s 8200 cyber unit notices that a file from this phone is in the hands of Iran. The Shin Bet is notified and informs Gantz. But then the door is open for anyone who has the phone’s contents to warn of a ‘risk of extortion’ by Iran, or to spread rumors, including things that aren’t on the phone, on the assumption that an innocent citizen will link this to the ‘Iranian hacking.’ Without this ‘hacking’ such rumors would be buried on some remote website.” The general consensus was that such a scenario is feasible, but that it’s totally unreasonable to think we’re at that point yet. One hopes this is the case.

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