A former top defense official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally gave an Israeli stamp of approval on a controversial deal for Germany to sell Egypt submarines in 2015, despite concerns the sale could erode Israel’s regional military edge, according to a report Saturday.
The claim by Amos Gilad, a former director of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau, would appear to contradict claims made by Netanyahu himself that he actively worked to thwart the deal.
Germany’s agreement in 2015 to sell advanced submarines built by German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp to Egypt was heavily criticized by defense officials and politicians in Israel as eroding Israel’s qualitative edge in battlefield technology.
According to the report, aired on Channel 13 news, Amos Gilad made the comments to police investigators during testimony in a case involving suspected bribes paid to secure an Israeli contract to purchase hundreds of millions of dollars worth of naval vessels from ThyssenKrupp, also known as Case 3000.
Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case, which has been called one of the largest graft schemes in the country’s history, but police have recommended indictments against the premier’s former lawyer and other high profile figures over bribery suspicions.
During his testimony on Case 3000, according to Channel 13, Gilad told investigators that prior to the sale he had raised objections to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s adviser Christoph Heusgen.
However, a perplexed Heusgen asked him: “Are you aware of the goings on in your country?” He then told Gilad that Netanyahu himself had approved of the deal.
Heusgen noted that Germany did not require Israeli approval but had requested it nonetheless, due to the two nations’ special relationship. The US and some other allies will only sell advanced arms to Middle Eastern countries that are either a generation removed from the weapons sold Israel, or will run the sale by Jerusalem first, as a way of protecting the Jewish state in any future conflict.
Sources close to the prime minister have said in the past that he never approved the sale and actively worked against it.
According to a 2017 report by the channel, Netanyahu green-lit the sale despite the objections of top security officials who voiced concerns over supplying sophisticated submarines to Egypt.
The Blue and White party’s Number 2 Yair Lapid has also said in the past that Netanyahu approved the deal between Germany and Egypt, without notifying then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.
On Wednesday, Channel 13 reported that the State Attorney’s Office is probing a possible link between Netanyahu and Thyssenkrupp.
According to the report the State Comptroller’s Office recently discovered that Netanyahu and his cousin Nathan Milikowsky were once shareholders in Ohio-based graphite manufacturing company GrafTech International, which is a longtime supplier of Thyssenkrupp.
According to the report, Netanyahu did not disclose his holdings in GrafTech, which he had acquired when he was not prime minister.
Milikowsky, who sat on the Graftech board, held 11 percent of the company before selling them during an acquisition in 2015, according to publicly available documents. It was not clear how many shares Netanyahu held or if they were sold at the same time.
The link was revealed last month when Netanyahu sought permission from the State Comptroller’s Permits Committee for Milikowsky to pay for his legal defense in the three corruption cases he is facing.
The committee denied Netanyahu’s request and ruled that it was inappropriate for wealthy benefactors to pay the legal fees in a criminal case relating to receiving funds from wealthy benefactors. The committee also ordered Netanyahu to return the $300,000 he already accepted from Milikowsky to help pay his legal bills.
According to the report, if a direct financial link between Netanyahu and Thyssenkrupp is established, the prime minister could face additional corruption charges.
The Prime Minister’s Office in a statement denied there was any link between Netanyahu and Thyssenkrupp or GrafTech.
“It’s all fake news,” it said. “In 2010, after being elected prime minister, he sold his shares in his cousin’s company with full approval of authorities, and for the last 10 years the prime minister has no connection to the company, and does not know its connection to Thyssenkrupp.”
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claims the investigations are part of efforts by the media and the left to remove him from power, with the support of a dishonest police investigating team, overseen by a “weak” attorney general.
Last November, police said they had sufficient evidence to charge Netanyahu’s cousin and former lawyer David Shimron with bribery and money laundering offenses for his role in promoting Israel’s $2 billion purchase of submarines from Thyssenkrupp. Several other suspects are likely to be charged in the case.
Shimron represented Thyssenkrupp in the sale and is suspected of trading his influence over the prime minister in return for a hefty cut of the deal. Police believe he pushed for a NIS 6 billion ($1.5 billion) defense contract to purchase submarines for the Israeli Navy and other vessels for protecting the country’s maritime natural gas fields.
Netanyahu’s own role in the purchase decision, including his insistence that Thyssenkrupp be exempted from the usual Defense Ministry tender process, raised concerns of a conflict of interest for Shimron. Part of the agreement allegedly pushed by Shimron would also have seen Thyssenkrupp construct a lucrative shipyard in Israel, where the company would maintain the new vessel.
Shimron has also denied any wrongdoing on his own part and said he believes prosecutors will close the case against him without an indictment.
Last month, Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in cases 1000, 2000 and 3000.
While a sitting Israeli prime minister has never been this close to indictment before, Netanyahu is not obligated to resign at this stage. The planned indictment is still subject to a hearing, during which Netanyahu can plead his case before formal charges are filed. This process will take place after April 9 elections.