The state asked the High Court of Justice on Thursday to ban any publication of the contents of former defense officials’ affidavits that were included in a petition demanding a criminal investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a corruption scandal surrounding a $2 billion submarine deal with a German firm.
The development came days after excerpts were leaked from one of the affidavits, in which Dan Harel, a former director-general of the Defense Ministry, provided testimony that possibly ties Netanyahu to the case, known as the submarine case or Case 3000.
The petition was filed several months ago by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel. The statute of limitations in the submarine case expires next month, after which courts will no longer have the jurisdiction to address it if an investigation is not opened.
Avichai Mandelblit, the attorney general, was set at 1 p.m. Thursday to publish the state’s response to petitions demanding that Netanyahu be investigated over the affair. A convoy of demonstrators gathered at the Supreme Court Wednesday to demand a probe be opened.
While several of Netanyahu’s close associates face charges in Case 3000, which involves suspicions Israeli officials were bribed to push for multi-billion-shekel acquisitions of naval vessels and submarines from German firm Thyssenkrupp, the prime minister has not been implicated and the attorney general has said he is 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. Critics and rivals of Netanyahu allege he had a possible conflict of interest surrounding the massive deal for the vessels.
On Thursday, representatives of the government asked the court to issue a gag order on the content of the unpublished documents, apparently fearing more damaging leaks.
The Movement for Quality Government responded that if the court approves the request it would be “an attempt to bury the case.” It highlighted the fact that the court hearings are being held behind closed doors and therefore will receive less media attention.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Thursday that he was weighing the option of opening an internal commission of inquiry into the case within the Defense Ministry, a move that riled Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party, joined forces earlier this year with Netanyahu to form a power-sharing unity government. However, Netanyahu’s refusal to quickly pass a 2021 state budget — which if passed would guarantee Gantz will become prime minister when Netanyahu’s 18 months at the helm elapse — has led to both parties repeatedly slamming each other and to the widespread belief that early elections are unavoidable.
“The submarine issue is severe and it should have been investigated,” Gantz told the Ynet news site.
“What can be done inside the defense apparatus is limited. Nevertheless, I am aware of the clause that enables me to form an inquiry within the Defense Ministry,” he said. “I am checking the possibility of forming a commission of inquiry for the submarine issue. I am examining the effectiveness. This is definitely a step I may take.”
“It is unacceptable that for years, strategic decisions were made without consulting the professionals,” Gantz said, adding that he would study Channel 12’s report and make a decision.
Likud issued a scathing response, saying that Blue and White was “continuing to lead a government within a government and to recycle the submarine affair.
“Everyone knows that the submarine affair was vigorously investigated by all law enforcement authorities, including those known for their hostility toward Prime Minister Netanyahu, and that even they were forced to conclude that the allegations are baseless,” the party said. “It is time for Gantz to work for the benefit of the people and not for votes in opinion polls.”
Following remarks by Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, also of Blue and White, MK Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party said she would propose legislation next week to form a state commission of inquiry into the submarine affair.
“Gantz and Ashkenazi, two former IDF chiefs of staff, are clearly saying this must be investigated,” Zandberg said in a statement. “I urge them to sign on to my proposal.”
On Wednesday, Ahaz Ben-Ari, a former top Defense Ministry official, said in an Israeli TV interview that a key suspect in the case invoked Netanyahu’s name while lobbying for Thyssenkrupp to be awarded the lucrative contract.
David Shimron, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer and second cousin, was originally suspected of mediating a bribery deal in the submarine case, but that charge was dropped by police and he is instead charged with money laundering. Avriel Bar-Yosef, Netanyahu’s one-time pick for national security adviser, faces charges of requesting a bribe, taking a bribe, fraud and breach of trust.
Other prominent suspects in the case include Miki Ganor, Thyssenkrupp’s representative in Israel, who is being charged with bribery, money laundering, and tax offenses; Eliezer Marom, a former head of the Israeli Navy, who faces charges of bribery, money laundering and tax offenses; and David Sharan, a former aide to Netanyahu and to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who was charged with bribery, breach of trust and money laundering.
The prime minister is currently on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three unrelated criminal cases and bribery in one of them. He denies the charges against him and claims he is the victim of an attempted political coup orchestrated by the police, prosecutors, opposition and hostile media.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.