Gantz, Lapid say ministers to vote Sunday on state inquiry into murky submarine deal

But TV report says PM may not agree to hold vote; Gantz says panel ‘a necessary step to safeguard security,’ Lapid says government will leave ‘no stone unturned’ to reach truth

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aboard the new submarine 'Rahav' at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aboard the new submarine 'Rahav' at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Two top ministers said Friday that the government will vote on Sunday on the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the so-called “submarine affair,” a murky deal between Israel and a German shipbuilder for naval vessels that has already resulted in multiple indictments.

The upcoming vote was announced Friday by the offices of Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

However, a report on Channel 12 news cast doubt on their assertion. The unsourced report said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett does not plan to bring the matter to a vote yet. It said Bennett wishes to finalize an agreement with Germany on the purchase of Dolphin-type submarines before making any move on the inquiry commission.

In October 2018, Germany approved a memorandum of understanding with Israel for the construction of three Dolphin-type submarines to be added to Israel’s fleet of six submarines, after the purchase stalled during an Israeli investigation into alleged corruption and bribes to seal the deal.

Reports at the time indicated that the agreement included a clause according to which the deal would not advance further while the corruption investigation was ongoing. It also gave Germany the right to withdraw from the deal regardless of whether any criminal conduct was ultimately uncovered by police in the purchase.

In his statement Friday, Gantz said that “the formation of a commission of inquiry is a necessary step to safeguard Israel’s security.”

Lapid added: “The submarine affair is the most serious case of defense corruption in Israeli history, and we must leave no stone unturned to reach the truth.”

The scandal came to be known as the “submarine affair,” or Case 3000, and revolved around the 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. Several of those involved in the agreement have been indicted over the affair, including close confidants of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called for the procurement, though not the ex-premier himself.

The scandal also involved the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines and two anti-submarine warships by Germany to Egypt, allegedly approved by 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.

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

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.

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. He 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.

Gantz, now defense minister, submitted a formal request for a government inquiry back in October, after Sa’ar had indicated he would support the move. The probe also has the support of Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman.

(From left) Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, Gideon Sa’ar and Merav Michaeli sit together after their new coalition wins Knesset approval, June 13, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Though there have long been calls for a government investigation into the affair by opponents of Netanyahu, his supporters have claimed that such a probe would be politically motivated, an allegation that Gantz has rejected.

“The formation of the commission is critical for the defense establishment and the State of Israel — if we do not uncover the truth, we will not be able to learn lessons for the future,” Gantz said in October.

His proposal called for NIS 9 million ($2.85 million) to be budgeted for the commission of inquiry, with NIS 7 million ($2.22 million) coming from his Defense Ministry and NIS 2 million ($630,000) from the Justice Ministry.

Though Gantz said the probe was meant to ensure Israeli citizens’ trust in the country’s defense apparatus, under his proposal the details of the inquiry would be kept almost entirely secret.

Since the affair came to light in 2016, there have been multiple attempts to form a state inquiry of commission into the deal, including one by Gantz in 2020, when he attempted to probe the purchase with an internal Defense Ministry investigation. That effort was thwarted by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who said it would interfere with his own criminal probe into the affair.

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