Bennett said to tell Merkel Israel wants to advance controversial submarine deal

PM says he ordered review of deal after taking office; Merkel says countries agree that ‘there must always be a vision of a lasting democratic Jewish State of Israel’

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) hosts German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a private dinner in Jerusalem on October 10, 2021. (Koby Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) hosts German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a private dinner in Jerusalem on October 10, 2021. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday night that Jerusalem wants to advance a controversial deal signed by the previous Israeli government to purchase submarines from Germany, according to several media reports.

An unnamed senior Israeli official told Hebrew media that while hosting Merkel for a private dinner at the end of her two-day visit to Israel, Bennett said that he had ordered a reexamination of the deal and that the defense establishment had concluded that the Dolphin-type submarines are necessary.

“The needs of the defense establishment have been re-analyzed by the new government,” the official was reported to have said. “The position of the defense establishment is that we need to be equipped with submarines and we are working to complete the agreement.”

In October 2018, Germany approved a memorandum of understanding with Israel for the construction of three Dolphin-type submarines to be added to Israel’s fleet of six submarines, after the purchase stalled during an Israeli investigation into alleged corruption and bribes to seal the deal.

Reports at the time indicated that the agreement included a clause according to which the deal would not advance further while the corruption investigation was ongoing. It also gave Germany the right to withdraw from the deal regardless of whether any criminal conduct was ultimately uncovered by police in the purchase.

The so-called “submarine affair,” also known as Case 3000, revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in Israel’s multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels — submarines and large missile ships — from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp.

This file photo taken on January 12, 2016, shows the German-made INS Rahav Dolphin 2-class submarine arriving at the military port of Haifa on January 12, 2016. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

The scandal also involved the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines and two anti-submarine warships by Germany to Egypt, allegedly approved by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu without consulting or notifying then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz. Israel had long been granted an unofficial veto over such sales by Germany.

While several of Netanyahu’s close associates have been indicted in the case, which involves suspicions Israeli officials were bribed to ensure Thyssenkrupp won the contract, the former premier has not been directly implicated and the attorney general has said he is not a suspect.

Bennett’s reported comments to Merkel come a week after Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced that he would support the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the affair.

Earlier Sunday, during her farewell visit to the Jewish state near the end of her 16-year term in office, Merkel said that Israel’s security would remain a top priority for “every German government.”

Bennett, in a joint press conference after a special cabinet meeting held in Merkel’s honor, called the outgoing German leader “a dear friend of Israel,” and declared that under her leadership, ties between the two nations were stronger than they had ever been.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks as she attends a cabinet meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. (Menahem Kahana/Pool Photo via AP)

The two leaders also addressed disagreements between them over a future Palestinian state.

“We sometimes disagree on questions such as whether there should be a two-state solution with the Palestinians, but we agree, I think, that there must always be a vision of a lasting democratic Jewish State of Israel,” Merkel said at the cabinet meeting, according to Reuters.

“I think that on this point, even if at this stage it seems almost hopeless, the idea of a two-state solution should not be taken off the table, it should not be buried … and that the Palestinians should be able to live securely in a state,” Merkel said at their press conference. She also said that Israeli settlement construction in territories sought by the Palestinians was unhelpful.

“We are not ignoring the Palestinians,” Bennett said in response to a question at the press conference. “They are our neighbors. They’re not going anywhere; we’re not going anywhere.

“At the same time, we have learned from experience that a Palestinian state means that it is highly likely that a terror state will emerge seven minutes away from my own house… I am a very pragmatic person. We are undertaking a series of actions on the ground in order to make things easier for everyone, for Jews, for Arabs, in Judea and Samaria, and in Gaza,” he said, using a term for the West Bank.

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