Convoys of vehicles were making their way to Jerusalem on Saturday afternoon to protest in front of the High Court of Justice and demand the formation of a state commission of inquiry that would probe the so-called submarine affair.
The affair, also known as Case 3000, revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in the multibillion-shekel state purchase of the naval vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp. The case has already resulted in indictments against several close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as high-ranking military officials, but not the premier himself.
On Saturday, the convoys set off from Caesaria near Netanyahu’s private residence and Bilu junction near Rehovot, with vehicles bearing Israeli flags and makeshift submarine and F-35 models on top of the cars. Over 100 vehicles were taking part, according to Haaretz.
The protest convoy is being led by the Black Flag movement, a group that has organized the weekly Saturday protests in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country for the past six months, and an organization called Investigation Now. On Facebook, the group has the handle “submarinegate.”
באנו להלחם על הדמוקרטיה הישראלית. על מדינת ישראל. על החברה. חבורת הלוחמים של השיירה הצפונית של #חקירה_עכשיו בדרך לבלפור!
Former Shin Bet security service chief Ami Ayalon gave an address in Caesaria before the vehicles began making their way to Jerusalem, criticizing Netanyahu’s handling of state affairs and the coronavirus response.
Addressing Netanyahu, he said, “the way you manage Israel’s foreign policy, the economy, the coronavirus crisis while giving more weight to personal political considerations over state considerations… harms the security of the State of Israel.”
Retired general Amiram Levin — who at various times headed the IDF Northern Command, commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, and served as deputy director of the Mossad spy agency — also spoke at the rally in Caesaria and lashed out at the PM as well as Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who last week announced that he would form a government committee to investigate the submarine affair.
“The person who continues to sell us this slogan ‘Israel before everything’ once again bows down and puts Bibi [Netanyahu] and himself first. He set up a mock committee, devoid of powers; a committee that is prevented in advance from investigating the sale of the submarines,” Levin was quoted as saying by the Hebrew-language Walla news site.
Gantz’s move to set up the government commission of inquiry, which will operate under the auspices of the Defense Ministry, inflamed tensions with Netanyahu and Likud, and talk of new elections abounds.
The submarine scandal involves suspicions Israeli officials were bribed to push for the acquisitions of naval vessels and submarines from Thyssenkrup. It also involves the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines and two anti-submarine warships by Germany to Egypt, allegedly approved by Netanyahu without consulting or notifying the Defense Ministry then led by Moshe Ya’alon. Then-IDF chief of staff Gantz was also kept out of the loop.
Critics and rivals of Netanyahu allege he had a possible conflict of interest surrounding the massive deal for the vessels.
On Thursday, ex-Mossad director Tamir Pardo, filed an affidavit to the High Court of Justice as part of a petition seeking a probe into the submarine affair, in which he lashed out at Netanyahu for keeping top defense officials in the dark on the sale of ships to Egypt. The behavior is “unacceptable, extremely unreasonable” and requires a state commission of inquiry, Pardo wrote.
Pardo said the decision to keep the approval under wraps harmed Israel’s security. “I’ve never encountered this sort of concealment from the most senior defense officials in the State of Israel, and the matter demands explanation,” writes Pardo.
A number of other Israelis tied to the defense establishment also filed affidavits alleging concerns about the decision-making surrounding the affair, Israel’s Channel 13 reported Friday night.
Netanyahu, who Ya’alon claims led an improper effort to buy the submarines from Thyssenkrupp, has previously blocked a number of efforts to form a parliamentary commission of inquiry.
The submarine affair
David Shimron, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer and second cousin, was originally suspected of mediating a bribery deal in the submarine case, but that charge was dropped by police and he is instead charged with money laundering. Avriel Bar-Yosef, Netanyahu’s onetime pick for national security adviser, faces charges of requesting a bribe, taking a bribe, fraud and breach of trust.
Other prominent suspects in the case include Miki Ganor, Thyssenkrupp’s representative in Israel, who is being charged with bribery, money laundering, and tax offenses; Eliezer Marom, a former head of the Israeli Navy, who faces charges of bribery, money laundering and tax offenses; and David Sharan, a former aide to Netanyahu and to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who was charged with bribery, breach of trust and money laundering.
In October, the state prosecution told the High Court of Justice that it believes there is no justification to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu over the matter.
Netanyahu is already on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three other cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing and claims to be a victim of an attempted political coup involving the police, prosecutors, left-wing opposition and the media.
Gantz’s office said last week that the findings of the committee will be presented within four months and will be shared with “full public transparency.”