Gantz, Sa’ar agree to review potential state inquiry into submarine affair

After feuding over the matter last month, defense and justice ministers to form inter-ministerial teams to discuss controversial case

Left: Defense Minister Benny Gantz, July 14, 2021 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90); Right: Gideon Sa'ar on March 7, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Left: Defense Minister Benny Gantz, July 14, 2021 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90); Right: Gideon Sa'ar on March 7, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar have set up inter-ministerial teams to review the possibility of establishing a state commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair.

The teams will hold discussions on the matter, while also conferring with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

The decision was seen as a rapprochement of sorts after the two engaged in a brief public spat over the issue last month, after Gantz announced his intention to have the government form an inquiry commission, reportedly without coordinating the matter with Sa’ar or Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Sa’ar’s office slammed Gantz’s conduct at the time as “unprofessional and unacceptable,” saying the defense chief issued a statement to the press without any coordination on the matter or prior deliberation.

“The establishment of a state commission of inquiry is a weighty issue. The haste and lack of orderly discussion… are unacceptable,” the statement said.

According to Channel 12 news, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked later informed Gantz that Bennett’s Yamina party would oppose the establishment of a state commission into the affair.

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu during a Knesset plenum discussion on the Palestinian family reunification law, in Jerusalem, July 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The submarine affair, also known as Case 3000, revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in Israel’s multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels — submarines and large missile ships — from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp. The scandal also involved the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines and two anti-submarine warships by Germany to Egypt, allegedly approved by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu without consulting or notifying then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and then-IDF chief of staff Gantz. Israel had long been granted an unofficial veto over such sales by Germany.

While several of Netanyahu’s close associates have been indicted in the case, which involves suspicions Israeli officials were bribed to ensure Thyssenkrupp won the contract, the former premier has not been directly implicated, and the attorney general has said he is not a suspect.

A man rides in a mock submarine during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)

Netanyahu, who was accused by former defense minister Ya’alon of having led the alleged improper effort to buy the submarines from Thyssenkrupp, has previously blocked a number of efforts to form a parliamentary commission of inquiry.

Last year, Gantz announced that his ministry was launching an internal investigation of the scandal, a move that did not require external approval. However, this probe quickly fell apart as the attorney general voiced concerns that it would interfere with his own criminal inquiry, which resulted in a number of indictments last month.

The state commission of inquiry that Gantz is proposing would have the power to subpoena witnesses, forcing them to appear for questioning — which his previous ministerial probe could not do.

In May, prosecutors filed indictments for bribery, money laundering and tax offenses at the Tel Aviv District Court Monday against Miki Ganor, who was the local agent for Thyssenkrupp. Avriel Bar-Yosef, once Netanyahu’s pick to be head of the Israel National Security Council, was indicted for bribery and breach of trust.

In addition, indictments for bribery, money laundering and breach of trust were filed against Netanyahu’s former chief of staff David Sharan; former chair of the fundraising organization Keron Hayesod (United Israel Appeal) Eliezer Sandberg; Brig. Gen. (res.) Shay Brosh, a former commander of the Israeli Navy’s commando unit; Rami Taib, a former political adviser to former Likud minister Yuval Steinitz; and media adviser Yitzhak Liber.

A June 19, 2018 photo of an Israeli Navy submarine being outfitted with a smart new torpedo system. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Alongside the indictments, cases were closed against David Shimron, cousin and former personal lawyer to Netanyahu, as well as former commander of the Israeli Navy Eliezer Marom, after prosecutors accepted their defenses at their respective pre-indictment hearings.

In October, the state prosecution told the High Court of Justice that it believed there was no justification to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu over the matter.

Netanyahu is already on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three other cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing and claims to be a victim of an attempted political coup involving the police, prosecutors, left-wing opposition and the media.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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