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Former Supreme Court chief Grunis to head state probe of ‘submarine affair’

Expanded commission of inquiry approved last month by the cabinet; Netanyahu expected to be called as chief witness

Former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis (Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90)
Former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis (Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90)

Former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis has been appointed to lead the state commission of inquiry into purchases of naval vessels from a German firm conducted under the government of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a statement Sunday announcing Grunis’s appointment, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said the panel would also include former Supreme Court justice Zvi Zylbertal, former Bank of Israel governor Karnit Flug, former Israel Navy commander Avraham Ben-Shoshan and former Israeli Air Force procurement division head Jacob Burtman.

The establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair was approved last month by the cabinet, though Prime Minister Naftali Bennett abstained in the vote.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had long called publicly to establish a state commission into the deals, while Netanyahu has decried such a move as a witch hunt.

The commission was originally meant to consist of three officials but was expanded to a panel of five last month “in light of the necessary expertise needed for several issues — legal issues, issues relating to defense and purchasing, and issues relating to policy-making and government conduct,” the Defense Ministry said at the time.

The proposal also appeared to be a response to criticism from within the government and, more significantly, from the opposition, which has claimed that the probe is politically motivated and aimed against Netanyahu.

Israelis protest against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside a court hearing on the submarine affair, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on January 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The commission will examine the murky $2 billion deal to purchase submarines from the German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp. More specifically, it will attempt to evaluate the procedures and decision-making employed by the political echelon related to the sensitive procurement, which has already resulted in several indictments.

The incident dates back to 2012 and has become known as “Case 3000.” The deal has already led to a number of indictments against several close confidants of Netanyahu, who called for the procurement, though the ex-premier has not been named as a suspect.

David Shimron, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer and cousin, has been charged with money laundering in connection with the deal, and Miki Ganor, Thyssenkrupp’s representative in Israel, has been charged with bribery.

Shaike Bareket, who held the position prior to Ganor, said last month that it was impossible Netanyahu was not familiar with all the details of the deal.

Bareket also said the commission must closely investigate Shimron’s role in the deal. “I think it’s something that needs to be investigated all the way through,” he said, claiming that Shimron associated constantly with Thyssenkrupp officials and presented himself as Netanyahu’s inside man.

Netanyahu is expected to be called as a chief witness in the probe, which will likely make him the first Israeli prime minister ever called to give testimony before a government-backed commission of inquiry.

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