Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “corrupt” on Thursday and said he should resign over a possible conflict of interest related to the purchase of German submarines.
Ya’alon, an outspoken critic of Netanyahu’s government, told Channel 10 TV that as defense minister he was sidelined from the deal, which went ahead after Netanyahu replaced him last year.
He said he was “convinced” Netanyahu should resign over the affair. He also said “it can’t be that the prime minister is not involved.”
Netanyahu is not officially a suspect in the $1.5 billion submarines affair, but his long-time personal attorney David Shimron, also his cousin, is a key figure in “Case 3000” in which authorities are investigating possible corruption and bribery involved in multi-billion-shekel naval deals with German shipbuilding company ThyssenKrupp.
Shimron became a suspect following revelations that he represented the German firm involved in the deal, raising the prospect of a conflict of interest.
Shimron has been questioned for several successive days in the affair, including on Thursday, at the police Lahav 433 fraud unit, and two other figures, former deputy head of the National Security Council Avriel Bar-Yosef and ThyssenKrupp’s Israeli agent Miki Ganor, were ordered kept behind bars.
Police reportedly barred Shimron from communicating with Netanyahu, and Israeli representatives of ThyssenKrupp from discussing the case with their parent company.
Israel has ordered six submarines from Germany in the past two decades, with the final one scheduled for delivery in 2018. Israel recently decided to purchase three new vessels to replace its older submarines.
Ya’alon recalled heated conversations with Netanyahu over buying the extra submarines that he said ended in “unpleasant tones.” Ya’alon said there was no urgent need for the vessels.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in this case, and over separate corruption allegations regarding questionable ties to top media, business and Hollywood executives.
Earlier Thursday, the prime minister told a gathering of his political allies that the corruption allegations linked to him and his associates are the consequence of “a coordinated campaign of leftists who want to undermine my government.”
In a meeting with cabinet ministers and lawmakers viewed as his closest allies, the prime minister insisted that he has “evidence for everything.”
“It’s all lies,” he reportedly said, in the closed-door meeting, of the various scandals to which he is being linked.
In addition to “Case 3000”, Netanyahu was also referring to a new state comptroller report that alleges violations of transparency rules related to regulating Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications firm.
Similarly to the submarines affair, there are no criminal suspicions directed at the prime minister in the Bezeq report, but the state watchdog did accuse the prime minister of failing to disclose his close ties with Bezeq head Shaul Elovitz in time to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest while he was also serving as minister of communications.
“I’ve been wronged by the media. They’re trying to connect my name with two investigations that have nothing to do with me — Elovitz and the submarines,” Netanyahu said.
“Elovitz isn’t my friend. He’s my acquaintance in a sense that doesn’t require reporting… I acquiesced to the attorney general’s suggestion and stopped dealing with [issues related to] Bezeq,” Netanyahu reportedly said, claiming that the Justice Ministry had ruled that all his dealings with Bezeq were handled correctly, based on substantive issues and not outside interests.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Environment Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis all gathered at the prime minister’s bureau at noon. Coalition chairman MK David Bitan along with lawmakers Miki Zohar and Amir Ohana, all from the Netanyahu-led Likud party, were also in attendance.
In the meeting with Likud lawmakers, Netanyahu said the steady stream of corruption allegations was meant to create an “atmosphere of rampant corruption” to hurt him in the next election.
“This will soon be obvious to all,” he said.
Netanyahu’s supporters vowed to fight back on his behalf. “We are going on the attack,” said Likud MK Miki Zohar said after the meeting.
“We are fed up with all the unforgivable slander about the prime minister,” Zohar said. “We have clear details that show that he [Netanyahu] had no connection with any of the cases in question. It is time to stop blaming him for everything that is happening the country.”
“This unreasonable approach in which the prime minister is always guilty until proven otherwise must be stopped,” he said.
The get-together came as the director-general of the Communications Ministry, Shlomo Filber, was called in for a second day of questioning by the Israel Securities Authority on suspicion of ethics violations and securities fraud.
On Wednesday, the state comptroller report also raised suspicions that Netanyahu and Filber had made decisions at the Communications Ministry in favor of the telecom giant.
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said that Netanyahu did not originally report his personal connection to Elovitz in a conflict of interest declaration, casting a shadow over the way the Communications Ministry treated Bezeq.
Shapira wrote that there was a lack of transparency over decisions made by Netanyahu regarding Bezeq before he was barred from involvement with the company and handed over decision-making to Filber.
Filber was appointed to the post by Netanyahu in June 2015, and has been criticized for his lenient policies toward telecom firms, including Bezeq. In an interview with Bloomberg in 2015 Filber suggested that competition in the telecom market had gone too far. He later denied saying that.
The watchdog said that Filber may have acted in ways that benefited Bezeq, citing several cases.
After the comptroller report was released Wednesday, Netanyahu dismissed it as a “futile” attempt to manufacture a scandal.
While Netanyahu is not a suspect in “Case 3000” and the Bezeq affair, he is being investigated in a pair of other corruption cases.
In Case 1000, police are looking into gifts including hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne said to have been given to the prime minister and his wife Sara by Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
A separate investigation, known as Case 2000, focuses on an alleged clandestine quid pro quo deal made between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister is said to have promised Mozes he would advance legislation to reduce the circulation of Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth. No such deal was ever implemented. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
AP contributed to this story.