After repeated postponements, the cabinet is expected on Sunday to debate a proposal by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to establish a state commission of inquiry into the purchase of submarines and surface vessels. This comes in the wake of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s withdrawal of his objection to the move last week, which followed the signing of a deal with Germany to purchase three new submarines.
The proposal to set up a commission includes a demand to examine how five different steps were taken toward the previous purchase of submarines and surface vessels, as well as the attempt to privatize Israel’s naval shipyards and Israel’s consent to selling advanced German submarines to Egypt.
This is an important, essential move. But anyone waiting for a sweeping out of the stables may be disappointed. Even though this affair was described by government and defense officials as “the most serious defense-related case of corruption in the country’s history,” the proposal being brought for the cabinet’s approval will prevent the public from learning the truth. This time, too, the “sensitivity of the material” will lead to most hearings remaining classified and closed to the public. Furthermore, it’s not clear whether a public report will ever be issued, so as not to expose “secret information” or “sensitive data.” In other words, under a cloak of military secrecy, the public again is not expected to be privy to the depth of the rot.
For reasons that appear to be political, Bennett is likely to abstain from voting, with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked expected to oppose the proposal. This is a distorted logic, tied to the pair’s aspirations to curry favor with the right. Thus, to avoid burning the bridge to the hearts of Benjamin Netanyahu’s supporters, Bennett and Shaked are refusing to be associated with a move that ascribes corruption to the former prime minister and his associates. Instead of acting on their promise to the public of change, Bennett and Shaked prefer upholding the norms of public corruption and malfeasance.
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The scandal of the submarines' procurement was not an isolated event. It was a reflection of a system that is rotten to the core. The metastases of this failed process still threaten the entire body of the defense establishment. One cannot allow older divisions – yes Bibi, no Bibi – to tarnish the struggle against corruption. The systemic corruption far exceeds Netanyahu, and it will continue to flourish as long as the public does not insist on ending it. Those involved include retired officers, businessmen and a host of middlemen who are close to decision-makers and the public coffers, and who are making huge profits from arms deals behind the public’s back. There is an entire system that protects them, whitewashing suspicions of corruption when these come to the surface. The public is not just entitled to know, it is required to know, and it must demand that the truth come to light.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.