The early morning announcement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief negotiator and longtime personal envoy Yitzchak Molcho was named the suspect in the corruption investigation into Israel’s purchase of submarines from a German shipbuilder has most Hebrew-language print media aflutter on Tuesday.
Under the headline “Late-night spats,” Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Molcho, his legal partner David Shimron and the shipbuilder’s local-representative-turned state’s witness, Miki Ganor, got into a shouting match inside the anti-corruption police headquarters in Lod late last night after hours of questioning.
In the latest development in the investigation, dubbed Case 3000, Molcho and Netanyahu’s cousin and personal attorney Shimron were detained by police for questioning on Sunday and have since faced two marathon days of interrogation.
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. They suspect 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.
These allegations don’t sit well with Yedioth, which has become increasingly critical of the Netanyahus in recent months, thanks to a separate corruption scandal.
In the first of two accompanying op-eds, Shimon Shiffer argues that Netanyahu’s leadership style is ultimately to blame for the latest corruption scandal.
He says the prime minister’s tendency to appoint family members or friends to senior roles has turned Israel into a country defined by nepotism.
“It’s clear that Netanyahu crossed all red lines in regards to the actions of his friends and relatives,” he writes. “In effect, Netanyahu in the last 10 years has established a ‘a nation of family’ in which his family and friends have managed some of the most sensitive national and foreign policy matters of this country.”
In his column, Nahum Barnea levels his usual criticism at Netanyahu, but shows an unexpected soft spot for Molcho.
“Molcho is a charismatic man, and unlike the loud crass people that Netanyahu has surrounded himself with in his inner circle, Molcho is soft-spoken and reasoned,” he says.
Despite this, Barnea says that Molcho’s alleged obliviousness to the conflict of interest that arose from working directly for the prime minister while practicing law privately shows a certain amount of naivete.
“Its hard to understand why he didn’t bow out of his government position, or quit his private business for several years while he serves the country that is so dear to him.”
Haaretz devotes its front page to the latest developments in Case 3000, but also to a separate investigation into a Netanyahu loyalist who is suspected of securities offenses related to a merger involving the national telephone company Bezeq.
The left-wing daily that is often highly critical of Netanyahu links the two cases as evidence of the prime minister’s steadily eroding inner circle.
Its front page headline names the “Secret men of Netanyahu under investigation,”
Columnist Yossi Verter calls Molcho and Shimron Netanyahu’s “right and left hands” and the keepers of some of Israel’s deepest secrets.
“They are the right and left lobes of his brain. They are his interior minister and his foreign minister,” he says. Molcho and Shimron have “carried out some of the most sensitive missions for Netanyahu.”
But Verter questions: Could Netanyahu really not have known what the two were up to?
“Is it possible that those two acted – if they acted – in a way that constitutes a violation of the law on a strategic, security-related political issue behind the back of a prime minister who was involved over his head in the exact same issue?”
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s Israel Hayom barely mentions the latest developments of ‘Case 3000, opting instead to lead its front page with an investigation into health insurer Maccabi, which allegedly intentionally denies patients access to MRI tests as a cost-saving measure.
Not only does the staunchly pro-Netanyahu daily bury its coverage of the investigation into a corruption scandal that has been called one of the biggest in Israel’s history on page 5, but it does not mention Molcho at all.
In her brief story, Efrat Forsher says the name of the suspect was under gag order at print time, even though the the other two leading dailies apparently had time to include Molcho’s name in their Tuesday papers.
Unsurprisingly, Israel Hayom’s op-ed pages are also silent on the matter. Its columnists are apparently more concerned with the dwindling popularity of the left-wing Meretz party and US President Donald Trump’s legacy one year after his election.