Former defense brass demand commission of inquiry into submarine affair

As part of lawsuit filed by anti-corruption group, affidavits urge Netanyahu be investigated in scandal over bribery in the procurement of German naval vessels

Benjamin Netanyahu, then prime minister, seen at a welcoming ceremony for a new submarine, Rahav, at the Israeli Navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Benjamin Netanyahu, then prime minister, seen at a welcoming ceremony for a new submarine, Rahav, at the Israeli Navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

A number of former senior top IDF officers and Defense Ministry officials recently submitted affidavits to the High Court of Justice demanding a reexamination of the prime minister’s role in the state’s purchase of naval vessels from Germany, in a deal that became the center of a major graft scandal.

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, which published excerpts over the weekend, 15 statements were made by former senior brass as part of a lawsuit filed in June by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel organization, which is calling for a renewed investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s role in the affair, as well as a possible commission of inquiry.

Dubbed Case 3000, the scandal centers on Netanyahu’s possible conflict ‎of ‎interest surrounding the multi-billion-shekel procurement of military boats and submarines from German shipbuilder ‎Thyssenkrupp in 2016.

Prosecutors allege Israeli officials were bribed to advocate for a massive deal for the vessels, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A police investigation that wrapped up this February ensnared several close associates of Netanyahu, although the premier himself was 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. While Germany does not require Israeli permission to sell the advanced submarines to other countries, it has shown Jerusalem that courtesy in order to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge in the region.

The INS Rahav, a Dolphin class made by German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp, sets off from the German port of Kiel toward Haifa, December 17, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

On June 29 the Knesset State Control Committee voted against a proposal for the state comptroller to investigate the matter, following a heated debate during which coalition chairman MK Miki Zohar (Likud) threatened to have committee chief MK Ofer Shelah, of the opposition Yesh Atid-Telem party, booted from his post.

In one affidavit published by Yedioth Ahronoth, an individual identified as a former leader of the intelligence community who said that he had served in the Israel Defense Forces for three decades wrote that “the fact that the Germans were allowed to sell attack submarines to Egypt without the commander of the navy, the chief of staff, the defense minister and the intelligence agencies [being aware] must be investigated by the competent authorities.”

The officer wrote that he was unaware of “any case in which the entire defense establishment… was deliberately excluded from a sensitive security process,” calling such a move contrary to government procedures and “strategic security logic.”

Another former intelligence official, who did not submit an affidavit but had expressed his willingness to do so, was cited as saying “it is clear that this is corruption.” He added that he believed politicizing the procurement process could “lead to the deaths of soldiers in the next war.”

Miki Ganor attends a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thyssenkrupp’s former agent in Israel, Miki Ganor, is being charged with bribery, money laundering and tax offenses, as is Eliezer Marom, a former head of the Israeli Navy. 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.

According to state prosecutors, Bar-Yosef first approached Ganor about becoming Thyssenkrupp’s representative in Israel because he “wanted to derive financial benefit.” He then allegedly enlisted Marom, who was head of the navy at the time, to help lobby for Ganor’s appointment.

Ganor allegedly went on to pay them NIS 200,000 ($58,000) in total, with prosecutors accusing Bar-Yosef of working to advance naval purchases while serving as deputy national security adviser.

Also facing charges of bribery, breach of trust and money laundering in the case is David Sharan, a former aide to Netanyahu and to Energy Minister Yuval Steinetz. David Shimron, Netanyahu’s cousin and former personal lawyer, is to be charged with money laundering.

The prime minister is currently on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three unrelated criminal cases. He denies the charges against him.

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