High Court rejects petitions for state inquiry into ‘Submarine Affair’

Justices say there was ‘improper and worrying conduct’ in corruption case that has ensnared Netanyahu’s close associates, but stop short of ordering a probe

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)
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)

The High Court of Justice ruled on Thursday against three petitions that demanded the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the so-called “Submarine Affair,” a massive corruption case that has ensnared a number of close associates of Benjamin Netnayahu, though not the former prime minister himself.

The justices noted that there was “improper and worrying conduct” in the case that deserves further investigation, but stopped short of ordering a government inquiry.

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 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 Netanyahu without consulting or notifying then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and then-IDF chief of staff Benny 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.

Responding to Thursday’s High Court decision, now-Defense Minister Gantz said its “criticism of the shortcomings in the process of purchasing the submarines and vessels, and the situation in which the IDF and the defense establishment were pushed aside in the decision-making process, require an in-depth examination of the issue.”

He said he will “continue to lead, together with my government partners, the establishment of a state commission of inquiry soon.”

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

Last week, Gantz and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar agreed to hold discussions on the potential of setting up a state inquiry into the affair, something Gantz has pushed for, despite opposition within the government.

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.

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, the 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.

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

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.

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.

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