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Deep sea blues

Prime Minister Netanyahu is under attack for his role in a fishy deal to buy submarines from a shady German company

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aboard the new submarine 'Rahav' at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aboard the new submarine 'Rahav' at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bad week continues to get worse, with two of the three major Hebrew-language newspapers on Friday taking shots at the Israeli leader over his apparent misjudgment and questionable motivations in his handling of high-stakes military-related affairs, and alleged acts of corruption.

Leading with the creative and unexpected headline “Under water,” Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Nahum Barnea breaks down a Channel 10 report from earlier this week which revealed that the Israeli leader’s relative and personal lawyer, David Shimron, serves as the representative of the German company that’s trying to sell Israel military submarines, and which Netanyahu has been pushing for Israel to buy against the will of the IDF and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.

The submarine scandal, Barnea writes, is at best an “embarrassing incident,” and at worst “fishy.” The veteran analyst, who typically spares no love for the prime minister, doesn’t go as far as accusing Netanyahu of corruption, but does remind readers that the leader of the Jewish state had involved himself in some problematic security decisions in the past. “On one end, [the submarine scandal] evokes the memory of Netanyahu’s determination to invest billions in preparation for a military operation in Iran which ended in nothing, and on the other end, the ‘Simmons’ affair, the German company that obtained large contracts all over the world — also in the Israel Electric Company — in return for bribes,” Barnea writes.

Fellow Yedioth contributor Yoaz Hendel, who also happens to be a former adviser of Netanyahu’s, flat out calls for an investigation into the submarine stink. Hendel stresses that based on his experience with the Israeli leader, he finds it hard to believe Netanyahu was directly involved in anything illegal. But the connection between Shimron, Netanyahu’s attorney, and the German submarine company ThyssenKrupp, Hendel continues, is nevertheless disturbing.

“A conflict of interests is a matter of common sense way before it becomes criminal,” Hendel writes. “[But] if Netanyahu is not involved in the submarine affair (which I assess is true), he should be thanking his stars that [Channel 10] reporter Raviv Drucker brought the conflict of interests of [Shimron, Netanyahu’s lawyer and] cousin, to light before it crossed the criminal line… the case must be swiftly investigated, without mincing words.”

The INS Rahav, Israel's newest submarine, sets off from the German port of Kiel toward Haifa, December 17, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
The INS Rahav, Israel’s newest submarine, sets off from the German port of Kiel toward Haifa, December 17, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Haaretz, which covered the submarine scandal in great detail over the week, emphasizes the affair today as well, but focuses even more on the possibility of a major investigation into corruption allegations against the prime minister.

The daily reports that Netanyahu is likely to be summoned for questioning under caution in the near future, according to senior sources involved in the ongoing police probe. Haaretz recaps that in recent months, police have been investigating several cases relating to Netanyahu and his associates. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had ordered police to stop work into one of the cases, according to reports in September. According to the Haaretz newspaper, that particular case involves US-born Ari Harow, who headed American Friends of Likud from 2003 to 2006 and served as Netanyahu’s bureau chief in 2008-2010, and again in 2014. In December 2015, Harow was questioned under caution on suspicion of fraud and breach of trust, and was held under house arrest for five days.

Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar speaks at the mixed gender Western Wall plaza on June 14, 2016. (screen capture: Ynet)
Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar speaks at the mixed gender Western Wall plaza on June 14, 2016. (screen capture: Ynet)

Amid all the mounting criticism of Netanyahu, Israel Hayom, which is all but the official mouthpiece for the prime minister, does its best to fend of the attacks. The paper leads with Netanyahu’s response to the affair rather than with details of the affair itself, and the daily’s entire front page is made up of what seems like one excuse after another as to why there was nothing wrong with the submarine deal. “PM: The purchase of the submarines was legal and in line with the requests of the IDF,” Israel Hayom’s headline says. The paper continues with a thinly veiled criticism of Ya’alon, as it insists that despite the former defense minister’s opposition to the deal, “the army, the Ministry of Defense and the National Security Council were all for it. The deal was discussed in several meetings, including in the Cabinet, and was approved,” the paper says.

But back in Yedioth, the prime minister can still get no rest, as the paper highlights the State Comptroller’s newly revised report on the 2014, 50-day conflict between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip. Leaks of the report indicate it lambastes Israel’s senior echelon for failing to adequately prepare for the danger posed by the Hamas attack tunnel threats.

On Thursday, Channel 2 reported that a new draft of State Comptroller Yosef Shapira’s report on the government’s handling of the 2014 Gaza war between Israel and Hamas intensifies its criticism of Netanyahu and former defense minister Ya’alon while toning down its disapproval of the Israel Defense Force’s conduct. The latest version of what has been described as a scathing indictment of the government’s failure to appropriately prepare for the Hamas tunnel threat is seemingly a reversal of previous drafts, in which the IDF received the lion’s share of the blame for various operational failings, though Netanyahu and Ya’alon were also criticized.

After all of that, one would hope any news that does not have to do with the Israeli prime minister would be a welcome change. But alas, the only other major story not dealing with Netanyahu involves Sephardic chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, who in an interview with Israel Hayom yesterday called the LGBT community in the country a “cult of abomination,” and said Reform Jews were “evil.”

Amar was heavily criticized across the board for his choice of words, with members of Knesset calling for the chief rabbi to be fired, and LGBT community representatives even filing a complaint with police for incitement.

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