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Justice minister backs government probe of ‘Submarine Affair’

Gideon Sa’ar says his office has agreed to Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s call to investigate an alleged bribery scheme in Israel’s multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels

Then-newly appointed Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (left) and then-outgoing minister of justice Benny Gantz (right) at a ceremony marking the change of minister, at the Ministry for Justice in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Then-newly appointed Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (left) and then-outgoing minister of justice Benny Gantz (right) at a ceremony marking the change of minister, at the Ministry for Justice in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced on Sunday that he will support the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the so-called “Submarine Affair.”

“From my perspective, I gave a green light to the defense minister on this topic,” Sa’ar told the Kan public broadcaster, adding that the Justice Ministry has already looked into the issue and given approval for it to move ahead.

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.

The issue of a state commission of inquiry into the affair has been a contentious one in the government. In June, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced his intention to establish such a commission without coordinating it 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.

Sa’ar later agreed to look into establishing the committee. Bennett has not spoken publicly about supporting or opposing such a probe.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen at a welcoming ceremony for a new submarine, Rahav, at the Israeli Navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel was among several groups that petitioned the High Court in order to force the establishment of a state commission of inquiry. The court however rejected the petitions, saying there was “improper and worrying conduct” in the case, but stopped short of ordering a government inquiry.

Following Sa’ar’s comments, the Movement for Quality Government said the time to establish such a commission is now.

“Enough with the promises and the passing of responsibility between the ministers,” the nonprofit tweeted. “It’s time for action. Order the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the submarine affair at the next cabinet meeting!”

A man rides in a mock submarine during a protest against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, 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.

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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