Defense Minister Benny Gantz is able to establish a government committee to investigate the so-called submarine affair thanks to his post as head of the ministry, which will carry out the probe, an expert said on Sunday. However, the probe is not expected to have wide-ranging powers.
A government review committee is established through article 8A of the 2001 Government Law, which stipulates that a minister can appoint a committee to investigate a specific subject or event that is within its area of responsibility, Dr. Dana Blander of the Israel Democracy Institute told Channel 12.
The investigation will look into the 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.
While several of Prime Minister Benjamin 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.
The law specifies that the newly established committee must be chaired by a retired judge, Blander said. (Gantz’s office said in a statement Sunday that the committee is to be led by retired judge Amnon Straschnov.)
At the request of the minister appointing the committee, and with the approval of the government, the Justice Minister may grant the committee the powers of a higher-ranking state commission of inquiry. Without such approval, the committee’s powers will be limited, the report said.
A state commission of inquiry is an independent committee that conducts quasi-judicial process by the government, or by the state audit committee, following a report from the state comptroller. Its members are appointed by the president of the supreme court.
Such a commission has wide-ranging powers, including the authority to summon witnesses and punish those who refuse to testify. The testimony provided to the commission and its reports cannot be used as evidence in legal proceedings. The government tends to heed its recommendations, the report said.
It seems unlikely that this investigation will be designated a state commission of inquiry. Government’s are generally reluctant to take such a step, unless it sees the commission as a way to soothe public anger during times of crisis, for example, after the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, or after the Yom Kippur War.
If the investigatory committee is not declared a state commission of inquiry, it will still be able to call on anyone and hear their testimony, but they cannot be compelled to provide testimony.
According to the appointment document for the committee that Gantz established, it is intended to “weigh systemic” considerations, limiting its ability to address personal failures of those involved in the affair.
It is supposed to recommend the adoption and implementation of procedures, changes in law and regulations, and “any other recommendation deemed appropriate,” but will to refrain from making “personal conclusions.”
Even if the committee does decide on personal conclusions, they do not carry legal weight for the individual involved. The government in the past has not ignored recommendations of such committees, however.