The former chief of the Mossad spy agency, Tamir Pardo, said he wasn’t updated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his granting of approval for Germany to sell advanced submarines to Egypt several years ago, joining several other officials who have said the premier did not share the matter with them.
During a rare and contentious interview with Channel 12 news, Netanyahu said only a select few officials were briefed in real time about the reason for Israel not objecting to the 2014 and 2015 submarine deal with Egypt, which has been tied to a corruption scandal involving several of the prime minister’s associates, but so far not Netanyahu himself.
“Whoever needed to know, knew,” Netanyahu said, adding that Moshe Ya’alon, the then-defense minister who is now running for Knesset with the Blue and White party, was not among them. Then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, the leader of Blue and White, was also kept in the dark.
According to reports, defense officials and others raised concerns about the sale of the advanced weaponry by German firm Thyssenkrupp to Israel’s neighbor and former foe. Germany does not require Israeli approval for such a sale, but had evidently been open to hearing Israeli concerns. The US and some other allies will only sell advanced arms to Middle Eastern countries that are either a generation removed from the weapons sold Israel, or will run the sale by Jerusalem first, as a way of protecting the Jewish state in any future conflict.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Netanyahu’s former national security adviser Jacob Nagel both denied the premier’s claim that they knew of the reason behind the approval.
On Wednesday, the Kan public broadcaster reported that Pardo, who was Mossad chief at the time, wasn’t updated either on the reason for the approval or even on the fact that it had been given. Pardo said he only learned about it recently, through media reports.
“Netanyahu’s version makes no sense,” Pardo was quoted as saying. “I don’t believe that there exists a secret that is hidden from the IDF chief of staff, the defense minister and the Mossad chief.”
Netanyahu’s office responded to the report by saying: “Of course there are such occurrences, and they have taken place with all prime ministers since the establishment of the state.”
That response seemed to confirm that Pardo indeed was not updated.
In the Channel 12 interview Saturday, Netanyahu said the nature of the information that led him to approve the sale was so secret that he did not tell anyone but the attorney general and his close staff, as well as his national security advisers, Yaakov Amidror and Nagel.
“It was examined by the attorney general — he knows the truth,” Netanyahu said.
But a statement from Mandelblit on Sunday appeared to contradict Netanyahu’s account. The statement said the issue had come up during the graft investigation known as Case 3000, in which Netanyahu has been questioned but is not considered a suspect.
“On the issue of selling the submarines to Germany, he explained that in this context, there is a sensitive reason why he did not oppose the sale of the submarines [to Egypt],” the statement from the attorney general’s office said. “The prime minister added that due to the secrecy of the reason, he could not elaborate to investigators, but said he would be willing to complete his testimony on this issue in special testimony to the attorney general.”
Since the sales to Egypt were not related to the suspected bribery in Israel’s purchase of submarines from Germany in Case 3000, the issue was dropped, according to Mandelblit.
Also Sunday, Channel 13 quoted Nagel as saying he was unaware that Israel had given Germany the go-ahead to sell the submarines to Egypt, contradicting Netanyahu’s assertion that he was in the loop.
Netanyahu on Sunday invited Mandelblit to a meeting to update him on the security considerations.
“The attorney general confirms that he accepts the fact that the issue of submarines for Egypt is a sensitive security issue and nothing more,” a statement from Netanyahu said. “He also confirms the fact that the prime minister offered at the time to update him on the confidential details, but the attorney general saw no need.”
“Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with the attorney general tonight and invited him to a meeting, together with the national security adviser, in which he will update him on the remaining confidential details,” according to Netanyahu’s office.
Israeli television on Sunday, quoting legal sources, said authorities were unlikely to open a criminal investigation into the affair.
According to a Channel 13 report last week, Amos Gilad, former director of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau, traveled to Germany in 2015 to lobby against the sale, only to find out from Merkel’s staff that Netanyahu had personally approved it without telling anyone.
Ya’alon last week said the submarine affair could be tantamount to “treason.” After Netanyahu said he would sue Ya’alon for libel over the claim, Ya’alon said he was referring to Case 3000 in general, and not to Netanyahu specifically.
The prime minister has also said that had he not given approval to Germany, Egypt would have bought the submarines from a different source, and that he only okayed it for security reasons. Some have suggested that Netanyahu’s financial interests in a company with ties to Thyssenkrupp were suspicious. He has denied any connection to his own personal financial interests or shares, calling such allegations a “terrible blood libel.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.