A member of a government committee investigating the irregular purchase process of German submarines and corvettes by Israel stepped down on Friday, days ahead of the scheduled first hearing into the affair.
The so-called submarine affair, previously investigated by police and state prosecutors, has resulted in indictments against several close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as high-ranking military officials, but not the premier himself.
Earlier this week Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced the formation of a committee in the ministry to probe the case internally.
A spokesperson for the Defense Ministry said Friday that Yael Grill had decided to step down from the panel to avoid any possible concerns of conflict of interest.
Grill headed the ministry’s Economic Department while the purchase was being debated in 2012-2014. However, it has been clarified that she was not personally involved in any of the procurements in question.
Grill will be replaced on the committee by Israela Friedman, who has held a number of positions in procurement in the Defense Ministry.
The first hearing is set to take place on Tuesday and will be held behind closed doors due to the classified nature of much of the information that will be discussed. Senior officials will be called upon to give testimony, the statement said.
Meetings are set to take place three times a week.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced earlier this month that he would form a government committee to investigate the so-called submarine affair, also known as Case 3000, which revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of the naval vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp.
Netanyahu, who former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon claims led an improper effort to buy the submarines from Thyssenkrupp, has previously blocked a number of efforts to form a parliamentary commission of inquiry.
Gantz’s move to set up the government commission of inquiry, which will operate under the auspices of the Defense Ministry, could inflame tensions with Netanyahu and imperil the already dysfunctional unity government.
The defense minister’s office said in a statement that the committee, to be led by retired judge Amnon Straschnov, will be specifically tasked with exploring the role of the Prime Minister’s Office in the purchase of the naval vessels, as well as that of the National Security Agency and the Defense Ministry.
While several of Netanyahu’s close associates face charges in Case 3000, which involves suspicions Israeli officials were bribed to push for the acquisitions of naval vessels and submarines from 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.
In October, the state prosecution told the High Court of Justice that it believes there is no justification to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu over the matter.
Netanyahu is already on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three other cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing and claims to be a victim of an attempted political coup involving the police, prosecutors, left-wing opposition and the media.
Gantz’s office said the findings of the committee will be presented within four months and will be shared with “full public transparency.”
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.