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Netanyahu's Surprise Interview Merely Underscored His Poor Judgement

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem, March 21, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem, March 21, 2019.Credit: Amir Cohen,AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprise appearance in Channel 12’s studio Saturday evening was meant to check criticism of his conduct in the submarine affair and to do damage control. But it didn’t dispel the fog. To the contrary, his performance merely underscored that many questions remain about his decisions, his changing and contradictory stories, and his judgment.

Ostensibly, there are two separate cases, but the connection between them must be examined. In the first, in 2007 Netanyahu paid $600,000 for shares in SeaDrift Coke, a company owned by his cousin Nathan Milikowsky, and sold them in November 2010 for $4.3 million. Netanyahu earned a very high profit on an investment in a company whose market value dropped sharply during the global financial crisis of 2008. SeaDrift was sold to GrafTech International, a publicly traded company and a supplier of Thyssenkrupp, a German industrial group that includes a shipbuilder.

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Netanyahu has changed his story about when he bought into SeaDrift. Initially, he claimed he bought them when he was a private citizen. In fact, he was the head of the opposition. When questioned, he said: “I meant to say I wasn’t in the cabinet.”

His relationship with Milikowsky includes joint company ownership, loans, regular cash payments of thousands of dollars and an unauthorized $1-million donation for Netanyahu’s legal expenses, $300,000 of which have been paid.

Another contradiction arose when Netanyahu claimed in the past that he knew little about Milikowsky’s businesses. But when asked to explain the high profit he earned by selling his shares, he said, “I understand economics. I identified a good investment.”

The second case involves Netanyahu’s decision to buy submarines from Thyssenkrupp — a case in which several cronies, including his cousin and personal lawyer David Shimron and his former bureau chief David Sharan, are criminal suspects — and his approval of Germany’s sale of advanced submarines to Egypt, without informing the chief of staff or the defense minister. Netanyahu claims he didn’t know Milikowsky’s company supplied Thyssenkrupp.

Regarding the Egypt sale, he said “the defense minister didn’t need to know,” adding, “Israel has secrets only the prime minister and a handful of people know.” This is an astounding statement given that it concerned strategic military procurement by a neighboring country.

Both Netanyahu’s varying stories and his judgment on these issues are worrying. At stake are both his personal financial conduct, which must be examined, and his judgment concerning military procurement. The attorney general must order an immediate probe of Netanyahu’s role in both affairs.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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