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Bennett to abstain on vote for state inquiry into murky submarine deal — reports

Right-wing ministers Shaked, Elkin said expected to vote against commission’s formation; Defense Minister Gantz says probe a ‘national need,’ not political

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a press conference in Tel Aviv, January 11, 2022; Israelis protest against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside a court hearing on the so-called submarine affair, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, January 25, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton; Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a press conference in Tel Aviv, January 11, 2022; Israelis protest against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside a court hearing on the so-called submarine affair, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, January 25, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton; Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was reportedly expected to abstain on a vote Sunday on establishing a state commission of inquiry into the so-called “submarine affair,” a murky deal between Israel and a German shipbuilder for naval vessels that has already resulted in multiple indictments.

According to Hebrew-language media reports, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the right-wing New Hope party were expected to vote against the panel’s formation.

New Hope said in a statement that its leader, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, told ministers in the party they can vote as they choose “given the nature of the issue.”

Sa’ar himself will vote in favor of the establishment of the commission, the statement said.

Several ministers, chief among them Defense Minister Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, have long promised to investigate allegations of a massive bribery scheme in the deal for naval vessels. There have also been street demonstrations by activists demanding a state inquiry.

During an online meeting Saturday with members of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel watchdog group, Gantz said his push for an investigation was not political and “is a national need.”

“It’s the least political thing… We need to keep security out of the political field certainly on strategic issues of this kind,” he said, according to Channel 13 news.

Benjamin Netanyahu, then prime minister, seen at a welcoming ceremony for a new submarine, Rahav, at the Israeli Navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Several of those involved in setting up the purchase have been indicted over the affair, including close confidants of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called for the procurement, though not the ex-premier himself. The corruption suspicions and subsequent indictments were handled by police in what is known officially as Case 3000.

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

In October, the state prosecution told the High Court of Justice that it believed there was no justification to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu’s actions in the matter.

The now-opposition leader is already on trial in three unrelated corruption cases, although he is reportedly in talks to ink a plea deal.

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