Opinion |

Netanyahu Was Right About the Submarines After All

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu climbs out of a submarine in the Israeli Navy's fleet, Haifa, Israel 2016.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu climbs out of a submarine in the Israeli Navy's fleet, Haifa, Israel 2016.Credit: Baz Ratner/ REUTERS
Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right when six years ago he urged accelerating the acquisition of the three submarines from Germany.

That didn’t happen due to the public uproar in the wake of media investigations, the police probe against him and three election campaigns. Only this week did the government finally approve the purchase of the three new submarines – but at an exorbitant price of 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) after contractor Thyssenkrupp exploited the delay to raise the price by about 1 billion euros. The Knesset and the public were not informed of the price increase.

In light of all the developments of recent years in the maritime scandal (which includes the submarines and missile boats), a distorted narrative has come to be accepted to the effect that Netanyahu was trying to enlarge the fleet from six to nine submarines. That is untrue.

Since the time about 30 years ago when Germany sold Israel two submarines at a bargain price, the Israel Navy has been working tirelessly to increase the size of the fleet. Germany acted with generosity due to guilt feelings about the Holocaust, the firing of Scud missiles on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, the assistance German companies had given to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs, and Germany’s profound commitment to Israel’s security. Israel later bought a third submarine and in the first decade of the 21st century decided to expand the number to a total of five.

The fleet is designed for ongoing security missions – the defense of Israel’s coastline, gathering intelligence and special long-range operations in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. According to foreign reports, they also would be used to deliver a second nuclear strike.

Since 2005, all of Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff (Dan Halutz, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot) have supported the idea of a five-submarine fleet. In February 2016, over the opposition of Eisenkot and then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Netanyahu decided on the acquisition of a sixth submarine. The discussion on the matter in the National Security Council and with the Israel Defense Forces leadership took only a day and a half. Even if it clenched its teeth, the defense establishment honored Netanyahu’s decision.

Because of his burning belief that Iran is a modern incarnation of Nazi Germany bent on Israel’s destruction, Netanyahu is a big fan of a large fleet of submarines. He may have fantasized about nine submarines, and he may also have expressed this view in discussions with Ya’alon, but he accepted the cabinet decision to limit the number to six. At the same time, Netanyahu asked to accelerate the purchase of three submarines meant to replace the original three. Since the trauma of the disaster of the Dakar submarine, which sank in 1968, the navy removes submarines from service after 25 or 27 years, without seeking to extend their lives as is the case with other navies.

Netanyahu has a clear ideology and a world view. He is a statesman with vision and historical perspective who admires Winston Churchill. But aside from their shared craving for cigars, Netanyahu and the British leader who rescued human civilization from the Nazis have nothing in common. Netanyahu divided Israeli society and continues to do so to this day. He contributed to the deterioration of Israel’s fragile democracy and crudely brought his family into the Holy of Holies of decision-making. That’s in addition to his lies, his moral corruption and his hedonism.

All these fundamental faults came to the surface in his conduct in the maritime affair. Because he is so suspicious, he excluded defense ministers and chiefs of staff from his decisions. He allowed associates to meddle in the affair, failing to lift a finger to stop them. But we also have to recall that despite the efforts of the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office to incriminate the central figures, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit determined that Netanyahu was not even a suspect. The prosecution closed the criminal files against both David Shimron, Netanyahu’s attorney, and against Navy Commander Eliezer Marom, clearing them of all suspicion.

The only ones who are standing trial for bribery and other crimes are supporting characters – David Sharan, the head of Netanyahu’s bureau; former MK Eliezer (Modi) Zandberg; public relations advisers Rami Tayed and Yitzhak Lieber; naval officers Shai Brosh and Avriel Bar Yosef (for a deal involving liquefying gas, which is unconnected to the submarines and the boats) and, of course, the person who outdid them all – the corrupt and corrupting Michael Ganor.

Netanyahu’s conduct in the affair contributed to the public’s disgust with him. But we have to admit that in all honesty his decision to purchase a sixth submarine and allow Germany to sell two submarines to Egypt were reasonable and did no harm to national security.

The decision to appoint a state commission of inquiry into the navy scandal is important, but quite a bit of hypocrisy and false naivete is being heard from the senior defense officials who pressed for its establishment. Ya’alon; Dan Harel, the director general of his ministry; Shaul Horev, the director of the Atomic Energy Commission; and others who were secret partners to the discussions about the purchase of the boats and the submarines are claiming that they knew nothing about the improper conduct. But if they were marionettes in Netanyahu’s puppet theater, they were not worthy of serving in their positions.

The stables must be cleaned, but that will happen only if the letter of appointment is broad and allows the commission to examine the conduct of all those involved, both in the political and operational echelons, in navy acquisitions totaling tens of billions over the past 15 years.

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