The cabinet voted Sunday voted to create of a state commission of inquiry into submarine and naval vessel purchases that occurred under the government of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel purchased the vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp in a $2 billion deal that has been under scrutiny for possible corruption and bribery. Then-prime minister Netanyahu was questioned by police in connection with the deal and several of his close associates were indicted for their involvement in the negotiations.
The committee is expected to evaluate the procedures and decision-making employed by the political echelon related to the sensitive procurement.
A state commission of inquiry is the most serious type of Knesset commission. Imbued with broad powers to call witnesses and compel testimony, it runs a quasi-judicial process that can result in recommendations for further action against both individuals and public sector bodies.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett abstained from the cabinet vote, while his colleague at the helm of Yamina, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, voted against.
Shaked explained that she did not think the committee was appropriate given that it would be evaluating the former government’s actions. Shaked said that since the establishment of the state, only 14 inquiry committees have been founded, and of those, “none addressed the actions of the previous government,” with the exception of the much-delayed investigation into the disappearance of Yemenite children from early-state transit camps.
“Governments always established commissions of inquiry on themselves,” she said.
Jerusalem Affairs and Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope), who had been expected to vote against, supported the measure, saying it would serve to strengthen Israel’s security.
Elkin had requested that the committee’s mandate be expanded to include the professional, as well as political, echelon. The suggestion was incorporated and he voted in favor.
Justice Minister and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar also voted in favor of establishing the committee, but gave ministers in his party free rein to make their own decisions, given the political sensitivity of the vote.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who had long promised to establish an inquiry into the procurement process, called the commission “a security need of paramount importance.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid interacted before the vote with pro-inquiry protesters in Jerusalem, many of whom held “investigation now” placards and were accompanied by homemade submarine figurines. After the vote, Lapid took to Twitter to share the message that the committee will “see the investigation of this affair through to its conclusion.”
קומבינת הצוללות וכלי השיט היא כתם על בטחון והנהגת המדינה. זוהי פרשת השחיתות הבטחונית החמורה בתולדות המדינה. לפני חמש שנים הבטחתי שתוקם ועדת חקירה ממלכתית. למרות כל הלחצים וההתנגדות – היום קיימנו את ההבטחה. הגיע הזמן לחקור ולתת תשובות למערכת הבטחון, לחיל הים, לחיילי צה״ל ומפקדיו. pic.twitter.com/8OdLgEFWXc
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid???? (@yairlapid) January 23, 2022
Moshe Ya’alon, who was defense minister during submarine affair events, told the Knesset Channel Sunday morning that the naval deals were “the most corrupt security affair in the history of the country.”
In a related affair, Thyssenkrupp also sold submarines and naval vessels to Egypt, with Netanyahu’s apparent approval, raising questions. Israel has long held informal veto over such sales to Egypt.
The state prosecution has declined to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu’s involvement in Case 3000, and the attorney general has said he is not suspected of wrongdoing.
Netanyahu is currently on trial for three separate graft cases and is currently pursuing a plea deal to close them.
On Thursday, Israel signed a new deal to purchase three submarines from Thyssenkrupp, at a total cost of €3 billion ($3.4 billion).
The commission on inquiry is expected to comprise five members, expanded from the traditional three, on the recommendation of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, who will also appoint its chair.