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Deal to purchase German submarines may be signed this week, after top panel meets

Ministerial committee discusses buying 3 Dolphin-type vessels; Germany said to signal deal can go ahead even if prior corruption found, paving way for Israel to okay investigation

IDF troops, including then chief of staff Benny Gantz, stand on a Dolphin-class submarine (IDF via Wikipedia)
IDF troops, including then chief of staff Benny Gantz, stand on a Dolphin-class submarine (IDF via Wikipedia)

A defense procurement committee made up of senior ministers convened on Sunday and discussed a deal to buy three submarines from Germany, a deal that is entangled in an investigation into alleged corruption and bribes that has already resulted in multiple indictments.

The committee that oversees defense procurement is made up of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. However, it was not clear if all were present for Sunday’s discussion, the Haaretz daily reported.

The Walla news site said the committee discussed approving the outline of the agreement, as well as budgeting for the purchase of the three Dolphin-type submarines.

Haaretz reported that worry that the submarine purchase deal could be canceled was behind Bennett’s decision to delay a cabinet vote that had been set to take place on Sunday on establishing a state commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair.

However, unnamed sources familiar with the deal told the newspaper that the signing of the new agreement, potentially as soon as this week, could pave the way for Israel establishing the state commission of inquiry into the affair, since Germany has signaled that the sale can go ahead even if the probe ends up revealing prior corruption.

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 had stalled during an Israeli investigation into alleged corruption and bribes to seal the deal.

A man rides in a mock submarine during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, on October 14, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)

Reports at the time indicated that the agreement included a clause that said 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 scandal came to be known as the “submarine affair,” or Case 3000, and revolved around the 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. Several of those involved in the agreement have been indicted over the affair, including close confidants of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called for the procurement, though not the opposition leader himself.

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touring the INS Tanin submarine, built by the German firm Thyssenkrupp, as it arrived in Israel on September 23, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Gantz and Lapid announced on Friday that the long-promised vote on investigating the deal would occur on Sunday, but it was later delayed.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, the delay was due to the government’s ongoing negotiations to purchase the submarines from Germany.

But the Globes business daily said government ministers were waiting to see what happens with the purported plea deal being arranged between the state and Netanyahu in his ongoing corruption trial.

Netanyahu has long been linked to the submarine affair, and his associates have been indicted over their role, but the former prime minister has never been charged with wrongdoing in the incident and the attorney general has said he is not a suspect.

The now-opposition leader is currently on trial on three unrelated and separate corruption charges, although he is reportedly close to inking a plea deal in those cases.

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