Members of powerful Knesset defense panel call for submarine deal freeze
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Members of powerful Knesset defense panel call for submarine deal freeze

Letter to committee head signed by 13 asks for purchase of German naval vessels to be put on hold until after police probe

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aboard the new submarine 'Rahav' at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aboard the new submarine 'Rahav' at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Twelve members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee called on Sunday for the freezing of a controversial submarine deal currently at the center of a criminal investigation over the allegedly corrupt dealings of several close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Among the lawmakers who signed the letter to committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) were coalition MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) as well as opposition members from the Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and Meretz parties.

MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union), a member of a joint defense budget committee, also signed the letter.

The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s 32 members and alternates oversee the country’s sprawling defense apparatus, including reviewing and approving arms deals.

The demand of the 13 lawmakers, led by Erel Margalit (Zionist Union), comes after the disclosure that Netanyahu’s associates transferred the authority to execute the deal from the Defense Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office.

The letter calls for the naval agreement to be put on hold until the completion of the police’s investigation.

Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit speaks during a conference he organized in Tel Aviv on May 22, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit speaks during a conference he organized in Tel Aviv on May 22, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“In recent months, we have all witnessed the disconcerting pollution of the (submarine) purchasing process, which has involved foreign interests directly connected to the prime minister and his associates,” the letter stated.

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.

“It cannot be that when the police arrest the representatives and mediators of this deal, the Knesset continues to approve millions for the same transaction using public money,” said Margalit in a statement following the publication of the letter.

Margalit earlier said he had passed along information about the submarine deal that would sink Netanyahu. Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, who testified to police about the affair, has called the affair the worst graft scandal in the country’s history.

Last week, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended the remand of former National Security Council deputy head Avriel Bar-Yosef and businessman Miki Ganor over the case, in which investigators suspect bribes were paid out in connection with a decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to buy three submarines from ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition from the Israeli Defense Ministry

Police are also planning to summon the prime minister to testify on what he knows about the issue and specifically as to whether he knew of the corruption allegations against Bar-Yosef when he sought to appoint him head of the National Security Council in 2016, Channel 2 news reported.

File: David Shimron in Tel Aviv on February 17, 2015. (Ben Kelmer/Flash90)
File: David Shimron in Tel Aviv on February 17, 2015. (Ben Kelmer/Flash90)

On Wednesday, the former commander of the Israeli Navy, Eliezer Marom, told investigators probing Case 3000 that he played a role in helping Ganor, but denied taking any kickback money, according to reports.

According to Channel 2 news, Marom told police that Ganor asked him to recommend his selection as the Israeli representative of the shipbuilder, to which he agreed, but he denied he received any financial benefit as a result.

Marom is the most senior military figure ever to have been arrested in Israel’s history, according to Channel 2 news.

Netanyahu told a gathering of his political allies Thursday that the allegations linked to him and his associates are the consequence of “a coordinated campaign of leftists who want to undermine my government.”

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