In a new twist to a saga involving alleged infractions over Israel’s planned purchase of three new German submarines, the head of the IDF’s civilian workers organization claimed that senior figures in the navy deliberately provoked the workforce that maintains Israel’s submarine fleet into declaring an industrial dispute, as part of an effort to have the German shipbuilder do the lucrative maintenance work instead.
The chairman of the IDF Civilian Workers Organization, Moshe Friedman, sent a letter on Sunday to workers saying he felt compelled to give his version of events regarding maintenance work on the submarines carried out at Israel Navy shipyards, the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported (Hebrew link) Monday.
The submarine deal has come under intense media scrutiny after it emerged last week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, David Shimron, is also working for the Germany-based conglomerate ThyssenKrupp that would supply Israel with three new submarines, allegedly giving him a stake in a NIS 6 billion ($1.5 billion) defense contract. Part of the deal could also see ThyssenKrupp construct a lucrative shipyard in Israel where it would maintain the subs.
Netanyahu in recent months has been pushing for Israel to buy the vessels against the will of the IDF and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. The prime minister has said he was not aware that Shimron was representing ThyssenKrupp. The attorney general is looking into the matter but said on Sunday there was no reason to consider a criminal probe.
Inhis letter, Friedman claimed that over the past year there have been disruptions at the shipyards caused by “unusual conduct by the naval command and the navy’s dock command which dragged the workers committee into sharp conflict, ultimately leading to the declaration of a lawful labor dispute.”
It became clear, he wrote, that “there were those who were deliberately agitating… to create a false impression” that the navy’s shipyards could not be relied upon to do the maintenance work. Civilians are employed by the IDF to carry out much of the maintenance work on ships and submarines, making their future employment dependent on which shipyard would deal with the submarines.
In August, Friedman and the chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, Avi Nissenkorn, met with Shimron and Miki Ganor, an Israeli representative of ThyssenKrupp, who is reportedly poised to earn 30 million euros from the deal should it go ahead. A proposal was presented, he said, for the German firm to take over the maintenance work, in Israel, from the navy.
Attempts to persuade the Histadrut to agree to give the work to a new German-operated shipyard were accompanied by “harsh statements in an attempt to blacken the dock workers,” he wrote, while stressing that Israeli shipyard workers have never halted maintenance work on submarines.
Friedman claimed that Ganor gave the impression that the Israeli navy was fully backing the move to maintain the submarines at a German-operated yard, and that Ganor said he had checked with Haifa port authorities regarding areas that would be allocated to the German dockyard.
He said Shimron, in the meeting, suggested that it would be better for the shipyard and the workers to reach an agreement among themselves rather than have a conditions dictated by the Defense Ministry.
Friedman noted that, in his opinion, sensitive defense work, experience, and information should be kept within the navy and not contracted out to foreign companies.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday ordered his office to look into the multi-billion shekel deal to purchase the German submarines.
Mandelblit was having his office examine the circumstances surrounding the deal, but emphasized that there was no evidence at this stage that would warrant police involvement in the investigation, according to Hebrew media reports on Sunday night.
The move came hours after Netanyahu denied allegations that personal interests played a role in the deal, saying bolstering Israel’s long-term security needs was his “only consideration.”
Shimron has repeatedly denied a conflict of interest, saying he “did not discuss these matters with the prime minister” and that he made no effort to influence a decision over the deal.
Over the weekend, opposition MKs demanded an official investigation into the deal.
Last month, Netanyahu announced in a cabinet meeting that Israel was in the process of negotiating the purchase of the three new submarines for the Israeli Navy, which currently maintains a fleet of five underwater vessels, with another slated to be delivered in coming years.
The new submarines were intended as replacements for the military’s older models.
But according to Channel 10, neither Ya’alon, who served as defense minister when the deal was first proposed, nor the IDF was in favor of purchasing the new submarines — somewhat of a change of pace in the normal narrative of the defense establishment fighting for acquisitions — as the decision did not fit with the Defense Ministry’s multi-year plan for the army.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.