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Vote on state inquiry into murky submarine deal said delayed at least a week

Conflicting reports claim cabinet vote on investigating ‘submarine affair’ pushed off due to either Netanyahu’s looming plea deal or a planned purchase of submarines from Germany

Israelis protest against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside a court hearing on the submarine affair, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on January 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis protest against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside a court hearing on the submarine affair, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on January 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A cabinet vote on Sunday on establishing a state commission of inquiry into the so-called “submarine affair” will not take place as planned and will be delayed by at least a week, according to Hebrew media reports.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced on Friday that the long-promised vote on investigating a murky deal between Israel and a German shipbuilder for naval vessels that has already resulted in multiple indictments would occur on Sunday.

But the Globes business daily reported on Saturday that the vote will not be on the cabinet’s agenda this week after all. According to the report, government ministers are waiting to see what will happen with the purported plea deal being arranged between the state and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his ongoing corruption trial.

Netanyahu has long been linked to the submarine affair, and his associates have been indicted over their role, but the former prime minister has never been charged with wrongdoing in the incident and the attorney general has said he is not a suspect.

The now-opposition leader is currently on trial on three unrelated and separate corruption charges, although he is reportedly close to inking a plea deal in those cases.

But according to the Haaretz newspaper, the delay in the vote is due to the government’s ongoing negotiations to purchase submarines from Germany, in a deal that may be signed as early as this week.

Defense Benny Gantz, left, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attend a plenary session at the assembly of the Knesset, June 28, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In October 2018, Germany approved a memorandum of understanding with Israel for the construction of three Dolphin-type submarines to be added to Israel’s fleet of six submarines, after the purchase had stalled during an Israeli investigation into alleged corruption and bribes to seal the deal.

Reports at the time indicated that the agreement included a clause according to which the deal would not advance further while the corruption investigation was ongoing. It also gave Germany the right to withdraw from the deal regardless of whether any criminal conduct was ultimately uncovered by police in the purchase.

The scandal came to be known as the “submarine affair,” or Case 3000, and revolved around the allegations of a massive bribery scheme in Israel’s multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels — submarines and large missile ships — from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp. Several of those involved in the agreement have been indicted over the affair, including close confidants of Netanyahu, who called for the procurement, though not the ex-premier himself.

The scandal also involved the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines and two anti-submarine warships by Germany to Egypt, allegedly approved by Netanyahu without consulting or notifying then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and then-IDF chief of staff Gantz. Israel had long been granted an unofficial veto over such sales by Germany.

In October, the state prosecution told the High Court of Justice that it believed there was no justification to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu over the matter.

Gantz and Lapid have both promised in the past to establish a formal government investigation of the submarine affair.

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)

In the Friday statement, Gantz said that “the formation of a commission of inquiry is a necessary step to safeguard Israel’s security.” Lapid added: “The submarine affair is the most serious case of defense corruption in Israeli history, and we must leave no stone unturned to reach the truth.”

Gantz submitted a formal request for a government inquiry back in October, after Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar had indicated he would support the move. The probe also has the support of Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman.

Though there have long been calls for a government investigation into the affair by opponents of Netanyahu, his supporters have claimed that such a probe would be politically motivated, an allegation that Gantz has rejected.

“The formation of the commission is critical for the defense establishment and the State of Israel — if we do not uncover the truth, we will not be able to learn lessons for the future,” Gantz said in October.

His proposal called for NIS 9 million ($2.85 million) to be budgeted for the commission of inquiry, with NIS 7 million ($2.22 million) coming from his Defense Ministry and NIS 2 million ($630,000) from the Justice Ministry.

Since the affair came to light in 2016, there have been multiple attempts to form a state inquiry of commission into the deal, including one by Gantz in 2020, when he attempted to probe the purchase with an internal Defense Ministry investigation. That effort was thwarted by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who said it would interfere with his own criminal probe into the affair.

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