Set to be 1st PM ever to testify at gov't-backed commission

Netanyahu expected to be called as central witness in state probe of submarine deal

The five members of the government-backed commission of inquiry will need to have no ties to the scandal-ridden procurement deal from a German shipbuilder

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

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to be called to testify before a state commission of inquiry into the so-called “submarine affair” that occurred during his tenure as prime minister.

In doing so, Netanyahu will likely become the first prime minister ever called to give testimony before a government-backed commission of inquiry. He is expected to serve as a chief witness in the state probe, which will investigate the murky deal to purchase submarines from the German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp, which has already resulted in multiple indictments.

It is expected to take some time to establish the commission and appoint its five members, since the panel will need to be composed of individuals who have never been involved in the scandal — which has dragged on for years — nor publicly voiced an opinion on the deal, according to reports.

On Sunday, the cabinet voted to establish the commission of inquiry into the incident, which dates back to 2012 and has become known as “Case 3000.” The submarine deal has already led to a number of indictments against several close confidants of Netanyahu, who called for the procurement, though the ex-premier has not been named as a suspect.

The committee is expected to evaluate the procedures and decision-making employed by the political echelon related to the sensitive procurement. It is also slated to probe Netanyahu’s purported approval of Thyssenkrupp’s sale of submarines to Egypt.

David Shimron, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer and cousin, has been charged with money laundering in connection with the deal, and Miki Ganor, Thyssenkrupp’s representative in Israel, has been charged with bribery.

Activists call for the opening of a committee of inquiry in the so-called submarine affair, outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 23, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Shaike Bareket, who held the position prior to Ganor, told 103FM radio on Monday that it was impossible Netanyahu was not familiar with all the details of the deal. “I can’t imagine such a possibility,” he said.

Bareket also said the commission must closely investigate Shimron’s role in the deal. “I think it’s something that needs to be investigated all the way through,” he said, claiming that Shimron associated constantly with Thyssenkrupp officials and presented himself as Netanyahu’s inside man.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have long called publicly to establish such a commission — which has also been a rallying cry of the protest movement against Netanyahu — while Netanyahu has decried such a move as a witch hunt.

The state prosecution has declined to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu’s involvement in Case 3000, and the attorney general has said he is not suspected of wrongdoing. Netanyahu is already on trial for three separate graft cases and is currently pursuing a plea deal to close them.

Netanyahu did not publicly respond to Sunday’s cabinet vote, but his Likud party said the ministers were “failed politicians who have harmed the security of the state in order to serve futile political claims.”

Gantz and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar pushed to expand the investigating commission from three to five members. Most cabinet ministers voted in favor of establishing the probe, while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett abstained and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked voted against.

Former defense minister Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon speaks at a protest supporting opening a committee of inquiry into the submarine affair, outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, January 23, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The five-member panel must include a Supreme Court justice, an additional judge who had the rank of major-general in the IDF, and an individual involved in the security industry. The chair of the commission will be appointed by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut.

Moshe Ya’alon, who served as defense minister during the period of the original submarine deal, told the Knesset Channel on Sunday that the naval deals were “the most corrupt security affair in the history of the country.”

On Thursday, Israel signed a new deal to purchase three submarines from Thyssenkrupp, at a total cost of €3 billion ($3.4 billion).

AFP contributed to this report.

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