Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, described the so-called submarine and patrol boat purchasing affair as “the most serious defense corruption case in the history of Israel,” and long worked to appoint a government commission of inquiry to investigate it. Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has made similar statements for years, in every possible forum. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said the affair “borders on treason.” Gantz, Ya’alon and Barak are not alone. Many senior government and defense establishment officials take an extremely harsh view of the affair.
The public does not know the whole truth of the scandal, which involves suspicion of corruption as part of the purchase of submarines from German company ThyssenKrupp, and elected officials are not doing what is necessary to bring it to light. Now the state prosecution is asking the Tel Aviv District Court to hold the trial of defendants in the affair behind closed doors. The method used to protect the system in Israel is always the same: The state utters the magic words “state security,” and the courts immediately volunteer for the secret assignment, like obedient veterans showing up for reserve duty.
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This time the prosecution is demanding that journalists be barred from the courtroom, in favor of representatives of the Defense Ministry’s security department, known by its Hebrew acronym, Malmab. These individuals will be privy to the court transcripts and investigation materials, and have the authority to determine what may and may not be published, as Gidi Weitz reported in Haaretz (Hebrew edition) on August 13.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit prevented a criminal investigation of Benjamin Netanyahu in the submarine affair and the former prime minister’s sale of his shares in Seadrift Coke, and a commission of inquiry has not been established. Now an attempt is being made to keep the public out of the courtroom, unable to observe the depth of the rot. The court must not grant the prosecution’s brazen request. There are many tough questions to which Israelis deserve answers, starting with why Netanyahu gave Germany Israel’s consent to upgrading the submarines that Berlin sells to Egypt – behind the back of the IDF and the defense establishment – and even concealed this from his defense minister.
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The necessity of public government commissions of inquiry goes beyond Netanyahu. There are additional critical questions requiring public scrutiny: Which retired officers have for years earned enormous amounts of money in the shadows from arms deals? Why are transactions between governments brokered by businesspeople who are close to the source? How did Malmab and the former IDF chief of staff paper over the suspicions of corruption regarding the patrol boat affair when it was happening?
The trial can shed some light on unclear details of this troubling affair. The district court must protect the truth, not those who seek to conceal it from the public. It must order the trial to be held in open court.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.