The Justice Ministry denied on Saturday claims by former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon that investigators refused to question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding alleged corruption in Israel’s purchase of submarines from a German shipbuilder out of fears for national security.
While speaking at a cultural event in the northern kibbutz of Yagur, Ya’alon expressed frustration over the fact that Netanyahu had not been questioned in the affair, positing that the ministry had reasoned that hauling Netanyahu in front of investigators were would torpedo the purchase of the nuclear submarines and possibly harm the country.
“If the prime minister is incriminated in the affair, there won’t be subs even if we need them. That’s the only thing I can understand to explain why they are still being careful about not touching him: a responsibility for national security,” he said.
Police have specifically said Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case, though several of his close associated have been questioned.
The Justice Ministry said the claim by Ya’alon, who was defense minister when the purchase was made and has alleged corruption in the affair, had no merit.
“There is no basis for claims that we weigh considerations that are not relevant to the investigation,” the ministry responded in a statement.
The Likud party also slammed Ya’alon’s comments, calling them “simply embarrassing.” The party, of which Ya’alon was formerly a member, claimed his testimony in the affair had been called by police “a collection of gossip” but it had not stopped him “from continuing his obsessive preoccupation with the issue for political purposes.”
Ya’alon quit the Knesset last year after a falling out with Netanyahu that he said had been sparked by the submarine affair. He is currently organizing a political comeback, possibly as the leader of a new party.
The purchase of the Dolphin-class submarines, costing a total of 2 billion euros, has been mired in controversy since it came to light that a close ally of Netanyahu was representing the German company that manufactures them. A probe, dubbed Case 3000, led to an ever-expanding investigation that has seen several senior officials arrested and questioned by police.
In June, Ya’alon called the submarine affair “the straw that broke the camel’s back with Netanyahu.”
“I had never suspected that he was corrupt. But then he went behind the back of the chief of staff and the head of the navy to sign the deal with (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel, when the whole professional consensus — from the navy to the Defense Ministry — was that we needed five submarines, not six,” he said.
Netanyahu’s outgoing diplomatic envoy Yitzhak Molcho and his legal partner David Shimron, Netanyahu’s cousin and personal attorney, have been questioned for their alleged involvement in Case 3000.
Investigators suspect that state officials were paid bribes to influence a decision to buy submarines and patrol boats from German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition from the Defense Ministry, headed at the time by Ya’alon.
Police suspect that Molcho tried to push the submarine deal during his diplomatic trips abroad, while Shimron sought to promote the interests of the German shipbuilders within Israel.
Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case, though many of his political opponents have called on the police to probe him as well.