Avi Gabbay, the leader of the opposition Zionist Union faction, said Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must take a leave of absence if he is declared a suspect in the ongoing police investigation into suspected graft in the purchase of naval vessels from a German shipbuilder.
The investigation is focused on suspicions that state officials were bribed to influence a decision to purchase four patrol boats and three Dolphin-class submarines, at a total cost of 2 billion euros (NIS 8.4 billion), from ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition to the deal from the Defense Ministry.
Netanyahu is not currently a suspect, but it was reported this week that he may be designated one as police consider questioning him under caution.
While the prime minister has insisted that he is not connected to the suspected corruption, some of his top advisers have been arrested in the case on suspicions of fraud and bribery: Yitzchak Molcho, Netanyahu’s chief negotiator and personal envoy for over a decade; Molcho’s legal partner David Shimron, Netanyahu’s cousin and personal attorney; David Sharan, the premier’s former bureau chief; and Avriel Bar-Yosef, chosen by Netanyahu to be his national security adviser.
Speaking at the faction’s weekly meeting, Gabbay said that the investigation is “undoubtedly one of the most serious corruption cases we have ever had, as it involves people closest to the prime minister acting within an utter conflict of interest between the good of the state and their own clients.
“A prime minister who is investigated as a criminal suspect in a bribery case regarding security matters must announce a leave of absence until the end of the investigation and cannot continue to make decisions regarding the security of the State of Israel,” he insisted.
According to Israel’s Basic Law, “should the prime minister be temporarily unable to discharge his duties, his place will be filled by the acting prime minister.” If the prime minister is still incapacitated after 100 days, he will be “deemed permanently unable to exercise his office.”
This law is mostly intended for situations in which a prime minister is unable to function for health reasons, such as when Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke in early January 2006 and Ehud Olmert became acting prime minister.
Last week, a spokesman for Netanyahu rejected any attempt to link the prime minister to the case, known as case 3000.
“Time after time there are forced attempts to tie the prime minister to the submarine and naval vessel affair, even after the Justice Ministry clarified that the prime minister is not suspected of anything,” the spokesman said in a statement.
“We have seen lots of predictions over time and lots of speculation about what might be, but one thing is clear — there will be nothing because there is nothing,” the statement said, repeating Netanyahu’s mantra.
In addition to his potential implication in Case 3000, Netanyahu has already been questioned several times in two other investigations where he is a suspect, known as cases 1000 and 2000.
Gabbay has previously said that Netanyahu need not resign over those suspicions and could potentially continue to serve as prime minister unless and until indicted.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.