A former top Defense Ministry official said in an interview aired Wednesday that a key suspect invoked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s name while lobbying for a German shipbuilder to be awarded a lucrative contract, amid calls for the premier to be investigated over the affair.
While several of Netanyahu’s close associates face charges in Case 3000, which involves suspicions Israeli officials were bribed to push for multi-billion-shekel acquisitions of naval vessels and submarines from ThyssenKrupp, the prime minister has not been implicated and the attorney general has said he is not a suspect.
The scandal 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. Critics and rivals of Netanyahu allege he had a possible conflict of interest surrounding the massive deal for the vessels.
Avichai Mandelblit, the attorney general, is set Thursday to publish the state’s response to petitions that Netanyahu be investigated over the affair. A convoy of demonstrators gathered at the Supreme Court Wednesday to demand a probe be opened.
“This is a very grave issue and the severity of it is made stronger precisely because it happened, you could say, in the holy of holies of the state’s work,” Ahaz Ben-Ari, who served as the Defense Ministry’s legal adviser and is a witness in the case, told Channel 13 news.
In 2016, the network, then known as Channel 10, published an email from July 2014 sent by Ben-Ari saying he was called by David Shimron, Netanyahu’s cousin and former attorney. In the reported email, Ben-Ari said Shimron told him he represented ThyssenKrupp and wanted to know if a tender for purchasing naval ships was canceled “in order to negotiate with his clients,” as requested by the premier.
According to the report, Defense Ministry officials came under intense pressure around the time the email was sent to halt the contract, so it would be awarded to ThyssenKrupp without a tender.
In Wednesday’s interview, Ben-Ari said he was first asked to halt the tender by Avriel Bar-Yosef, who was then serving as deputy national security adviser. “A week later Shimron called and repeated the request,” he said.
Asked about the email, Ben-Ari said, “To the best of my memory, Shimron quoted Netanyahu.”
He added that he did not believe it was either Shimron or Bar-Yosef who ordered the Defense Ministry to nix the tender, but someone in the Prime Minister’s Office, though he didn’t know “at what level of seniority.”
“The security establishment was asked to stand on the side of the initiative and contacts were mostly with the Prime Minister’s Office. In retrospect, it turns out this probably spawned the great sin,” Ben-Ari said.
Associates of Shimron denied he mentioned Netanyahu’s name while in the conversation with Ben-Ari, asserting he was not aware the prime minister was involved with the purchase of the submarines.
Netanyahu also issued a denial, with a statement on his behalf dismissing the report as “recycled and tendentious” and stressing he was not a suspect in the case.
Shimron was 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. 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 in the submarine case; 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.
The Channel 13 interview came days after leaked testimony was published from Dan Harel, the former director-general of the Defense Ministry, that also possibly ties Netanyahu to Case 3000.
Harel’s leaked testimony was said to be included in a High Court petition filed recently by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel demanding that a criminal investigation be opened against Netanyahu in the case. The statute of limitations in the case expires next month, after which courts will no longer have the jurisdiction to deal with it if an investigation is not opened.
Outside the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem Wednesday evening, protesters held a rally calling for Netanyahu to be investigated.
Many of the protesters traveled from around the country to reach Jerusalem, as part of two separate convoys that left the northern border town of Kiryat Shmona at 6 a.m. and the southern town of Beersheba in the afternoon, taking advantage of rules blocking travel for protests that expired at midnight.
Many protesters outfitted their vehicles with mock submarines.
“We are not moving from here. The one who needs to move to Caesarea and the wider world that is waiting for him, he should go and we’ll stay here,” Professor Yoram Levy was quoted saying by Walla news, referring to the northern coastal town where Netanyahu has a home.
The prime minister is currently on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three unrelated criminal cases and bribery in one of them. He denies the charges against him and claims he is the victim of an attempted political coup orchestrated by the police, prosecutors, opposition and hostile media.