Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party blasted Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday, after Gantz announced that he would form a government committee to investigate the so-called submarine affair, which has ensnared several of the premier’s allies, but not Netanyahu himself.
The affair, also known as Case 3000, revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of the naval vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp.
While several of Netanyahu’s close associates face charges in the case, 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.
Gantz’s move to set up the government commission of inquiry, which will operate under the auspices of the Defense Ministry, appeared to spark a coalition crisis, imperiling the already dysfunctional unity government. Gantz’s Blue and White party joined rival Likud to form a coalition in May, following three consecutive elections. Gantz said at the time that he was joining Netanyahu for the benefit of the public, amid the coronavirus crisis.
The Likud party accused Gantz of opening the probe to boost his electoral prospects and of neglecting the public during the crisis. The Blue and White party has seen a substantial drop in support since Gantz entered the coalition, and another round of elections is widely expected before Gantz is scheduled take over as prime minister in November, 2021, as specified in the coalition deal.
Coalition chairman and close Netanyahu ally Miki Zohar of Likud said the move was “no less than a provocation against Likud and its leader.”
“Even though Gantz knows well that Netanyahu had nothing to do with the submarine story, he is acting to besmirch him while endangering the coalition,” Zohar said.
“This is yet more proof that Gantz is forcefully dragging Israel to elections during a global crisis, instead of assisting the prime minister in his efforts to bring vaccines to the citizens of Israel,” Zohar said.
The Likud party issued a statement saying, “Gantz is unable to rise from the depths in the polls, so he’s recycling submarines to scrounge up some votes, while his party is busy with infighting.”
“The Israeli public is smart and can see through their tricks. It would be better for his Blue and White party to join the prime minister in his efforts to save the lives of Israeli citizens and bring vaccines to the country.”
Transportation Minister Miri Regev said, “Benny Gantz’s commission of inquiry into the submarines is nothing more than a life preserver for those who dived in the polls. He therefore recycles empty claims from the past to discredit the Likud party.”
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana indicated that he would consider a panel to look into the Fifth Dimension affair — a case relating to a failed technology firm once led by Gantz that is currently already being examined by the Israel Competition Authority. The firm once won a police contract without a tender, leading to an investigation.
“I’m actually all for an inquiry,” Ohana tweeted, alongside a screenshot of a media report on him weighing an inquiry panel into police’s conduct.
Meanwhile, Channel 13 news reported that Gantz is planning further moves that will serve his voter base.
The network said Gantz gathered Blue and White’s ministers Sunday morning and said: “The next two weeks are going to be dramatic.”
The meeting came hours before Gantz announced the submarine probe.
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.
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.
The statement noted that Gantz had reached a decision on the establishment of the committee after holding numerous consultations with former senior members of the legal and security establishment.
“In light of these consultations and current information to which he is privy, Gantz has come to the conclusion that a formal inquiry by a Defense Ministry commission will be able to shed light on some of the processes that led to the procurement of submarines and patrol boats, looking at the procedures and contracting execution,” it said.
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.
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.
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.”
On the campaign trail, Gantz called for a state commission to probe the submarine affair, but in recent months, Blue and White has refrained from voting on several bills to establish such an investigative committee, all of which were shot down due to a lack of support in the Knesset.