Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to exclude Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi from the consultations and decision-making on strategic issues is unsurprising but still incredible and mainly frightening. The most recent example is the peace deal with the United Arab Emirates and Netanyahu’s apparently tacit approval to sell U.S.-made F-35s to the UAE.
We’ve gotten used to the prime minister not including his ministers and the security cabinet in important discussions, at best deigning to inform them after decisions are made, turning them into rubber stamps. But the decision this time is incredible because both Gantz and Ashkenazi aren’t just cabinet colleagues but former military chiefs of staff with the highest security clearance, so they were partners to some of the most important decisions – life-and-death decisions – by previous governments.
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It’s unsurprising because Netanyahu has done this in the past, as in the case of the submarines and naval vessels that Israel acquired, and especially when he decided, without consulting then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon or then-military chief Gadi Eisenkot, to approve a German company’s sale of advanced submarines to Egypt.
But above all, the decision not to consult his senior colleagues about whether to normalize relations with the UAE, as with the submarines to Egypt, is frightening. The prime minister is the person who makes Israel’s most delicate decisions. More metaphorically, we could say he’s the person whose finger is on the trigger.
For this reason, it’s even more important that a state commission of inquiry be set up to look into the case of the submarines, which according to foreign reports are designed to carry nuclear weapons, and into Netanyahu’s actions in that case. The initiative by attorney Eliad Shraga and several former defense officials to establish such a commission is justified.
Shraga recently filed a High Court petition making two demands. The first is that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit investigate the incarnations and ramifications of the original submarine affair, which the police dubbed Case 3000. Even before opening an official investigation, Mendelblit declared that Netanyahu was free of any criminal suspicion.
The police investigation led the prosecution to indict former navy chief Eliezer Marom; Avriel Bar-Yosef, a Netanyahu candidate for national security adviser; Shaike Brosh, a former head of the navy’s elite Shayetet 13 unit; and Michael Ganor, the chief suspect in the bribery allegations in the submarine case who recently retracted his state’s evidence agreement. This gang had already earned the nickname “the mafia of former navy men.”
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The police also recommended charging attorney David Shimron, Netanyahu’s lawyer and cousin who also became the attorney for Ganor, the corrupt and corrupting, and David Sharan, Netanyahu’s former bureau chief, and some lesser-known suspects. As the investigation was coming to a close, it was learned that the prime minister had made a 16-million-shekel ($4.7 million) profit from an investment with another cousin, Nathan Milikowsky, who owned an electrodes company whose customers included ThyssenKrupp, the German industrial giant making the submarines bound for Israel and Egypt.
The second demand by Shraga and those who signed High Court affidavits is to establish a state commission of inquiry that would mainly address Netanyahu’s decision-making process and personal behavior. Precisely because of the seriousness of the arguments, it’s very important that the people who signed the affidavits not be fainthearted. Their refusal to reveal their names shows that they’re afraid.
Shraga explained to me the reason: They don’t want to “taint” the criminal investigation, because some of them gave testimony to the police. This isn’t a valid excuse because the affidavits held by Shraga made their way to Yedioth Ahronoth and contain many details of their arguments, but their names were withheld by the newspaper.
Such detailed reporting of the arguments could also undermine the investigation. In other words, Shraga and the people refusing to identify themselves are trying to have the best of both worlds – demand an inquiry commission while remaining in the shadows.
This isn’t proper behavior, which is why, as a public service, I’ve managed to discover the names of some of the signatories, who include Moshe Ya’alon, Amos Gilead, Dan Harel, Ilan Biran, Ami Ayalon, Uzi Arad, Ehud Barak, attorney Ahaz Ben Ari and Yoram Ben Ze’ev.
Incidentally, Eisenkot refused to sign the affidavits. But Shraga has a document summarizing a discussion that took place on February 16, 2016, with the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ planning branch and other officers. At this meeting, Eisenkot opposed the idea of buying anti-submarine boats, and made clear that submarines seven, eight and nine would be procured only when it was clear that numbers one, two and three would go out of service, leaving the submarine fleet always at six.
That’s why it’s important that those who say they fear for the country’s security and are aware of Netanyahu’s behavior patterns show courage and transparency on such fateful issues. If they come forward, this will buoy those seeking a state commission of inquiry. Such a panel would not only examine the claims but also might halt the prime minister's compulsive tendency to exclude and compartmentalize other decision-makers.
When there’s more and more evidence of Netanyahu’s fear of his corruption trial, the increasing influence of his family on him and his desire to do everything possible to avoid justice, every Israeli must be concerned. It’s crucial to make sure that the prime minister, who warns day and night about the danger of a nuclear Iran, acts logically.
After all, Netanyahu is also the chairman of the secretive Israel Atomic Energy Commission and only recently extended the term of the commission’s director general, Zeev Snir, by a year. Netanyahu must consult with all the people authorized to deal with state secrets in crucial discussions, especially life-and-death strategic issues.