Knesset rejects bill to probe PM’s role in submarine case; Blue and White absent

Knesset rejects bill to probe PM’s role in submarine case; Blue and White absent

Opposition chief slams Gantz for skipping vote on commission of inquiry into graft scandal, a move he had campaigned on

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)
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 Knesset on Wednesday rejected an opposition bill proposing the formation of a state commission of inquiry into a major graft scandal known as the submarine affair, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party members absent from the vote despite pushing for the move as recently as several months ago.

The plenum rejected the bill 48-19.

During three rounds of elections last year and this year, Gantz repeatedly highlighted the submarine affair, called for a state commission of inquiry and referred to the case as one of the most serious security fiascoes in Israel’s history.

On Wednesday, however, all of Blue and White’s MKs were absent from the vote, amid efforts to stabilize Gantz’s unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been accused by rivals of complicity in the submarine scandal.

The demand for a commission of inquiry in the affair, dubbed Case 3000, centers on Netanyahu’s possible conflict ‎of ‎interest surrounding the multi-billion-shekel procurement of military boats and submarines from German shipbuilder ‎Thyssenkrupp in 2016.

Prosecutors allege Israeli officials were bribed to advocate for a massive deal for the vessels, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A police investigation that wrapped up this February ensnared several close associates of Netanyahu, although the premier himself was not a suspect.

The scandal also involves the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines and two anti-submarine warships by Germany to Egypt, allegedly approved by Netanyahu without consulting or notifying the Defense Ministry. While Germany does not require Israeli permission to sell the advanced submarines to other countries, it has shown Jerusalem that courtesy in order to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge in the region.

Blue and White leaders Yair Lapid (R) and Moshe Ya’alon at a faction meeting at the Knesset on June 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, Gantz’s former running mate and one of the bill’s authors, blasted Blue and White and said his former allies had “sold the state’s security for a job. Shame on you.”

Lapid’s No. 2 in the Yesh Atid-Telem party, Moshe Ya’alon, on Wednesday repeated his description of the affair as the most serious in the country’s history and said his party wouldn’t let go of the matter “until it is probed and investigated.”

Meanwhile, David Shimron, Netanyahu’s second cousin and former personal lawyer who is involved in some of the criminal cases against the premier, filed a libel lawsuit against Ya’alon, demanding NIS 567,000 ($166,000) over comments Ya’alon made linking Shimron to the submarine scandal.

David Shimron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, at a Likud press conference in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2015. (Flash90)

Shimron was suspected of mediating a bribery deal in the submarine case, but that charged was dropped by police. He is instead charged with money laundering.

Ya’alon tweeted in response that “this is how a crime gang operates,” adding: “You won’t scare or intimidate me from fighting to expose the truth.”

The opposition has successfully put wedges in the Likud-Blue and White unity government in recent weeks through bills supported by one of the parties and opposed by the other.

Not long after the submarine scandal bill was rejected, another bill by the right-wing opposition party Yamina, to legislate a clause enabling the Knesset to override High Court rulings with certain conditions, was also defeated in the plenum.

Members of the Likud party, most of whom have expressed support for the override clause, were absent from the vote after the ultra-Orthodox parties made it clear earlier this week that they would oppose any move destabilizing the government.

The bill was supported by only five MKs and opposed by an overwhelming 71.

Last weekend, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported that a number of former senior top IDF officers and Defense Ministry officials had recently submitted affidavits to the High Court of Justice demanding a reexamination of the prime minister’s role in the submarine affair.

According to the report, 15 statements were made by former senior brass as part of a lawsuit filed in June by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which is calling for a renewed investigation into Netanyahu’s role in the affair, as well as a possible commission of inquiry.

The INS Rahav, a Dolphin class made by German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp, sets off from the German port of Kiel toward Haifa, December 17, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

On June 29 the Knesset State Control Committee voted against a proposal for the state comptroller to investigate the matter, following a heated debate during which coalition whip MK Miki Zohar (Likud) threatened to have committee chief MK Ofer Shelah, of the opposition Yesh Atid-Telem party, booted from his post.

Miki Ganor attends a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thyssenkrupp’s former agent in Israel, Miki Ganor, is being charged with bribery, money laundering and tax offenses in the case, as is Eliezer Marom, a former head of the Israeli Navy. Avriel Bar-Yosef, Netanyahu’s onetime pick for national security adviser, faces charges of requesting a bribe, taking a bribe, fraud and breach of trust.

According to state prosecutors, Bar-Yosef first approached Ganor about becoming Thyssenkrupp’s representative in Israel because he “wanted to derive financial benefit.” He then allegedly enlisted Marom, who was head of the navy at the time, to help lobby for Ganor’s appointment.

Ganor allegedly went on to pay them NIS 200,000 ($58,000) in total, with prosecutors accusing Bar-Yosef of working to advance naval purchases while serving as deputy national security adviser.

Also facing charges of bribery, breach of trust and money laundering in the case is David Sharan, a former aide to Netanyahu and to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.

The prime minister is currently on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three unrelated criminal cases. He denies the charges against him.

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