Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to be questioned in a criminal investigation that Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit opened on Wednesday into a controversial submarine contract.
Mandelblit had decided on Sunday not to open a criminal probe, but after meeting on Wednesday with the head of the Police Intelligence and Investigations branch Asst.- Ch. Meni Yitzhaki, Mandelblit’s office said there would be a probe into the purchase of German submarines for the navy, and the alleged involvement of Netanyahu’s lawyer and confidant David Shimron.
“Following new information that has been received today from the police, and in view of other developments in the matter, the attorney- general has ordered an investigation to be carried out by police concerning various aspects of the affair,” the Justice Ministry statement read.
Questions over the purchase of the submarines surfaced last week after Channel 10 reported that Shimron worked for the Israeli representative of Thyssenkrupp, the German company selling the submarines, and pushed to buy them over the objections of the defense establishment, including then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Channel 10 correspondent Raviv Drucker revealed a 2014 email from Defense Ministry legal adviser Ahaz Ben-Ari, in which he complained that Shimron was pressuring him to cancel an international tender for naval vessels to be used to guard Israel’s natural gas resources, and instead purchase them from Thyssenkrupp.
Ben-Ari wrote in the letter that Shimron had told him that Netanyahu himself asked to cancel the tender.
Mandelblit asked State Attorney Shai Nitzan to check whether Shimron had violated a conflict-of-interest agreement.
Shimron, who is likely to be questioned under caution, welcomed the probe and expressed confidence that he would be cleared of any wrongdoing.
Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit called the development an “earthquake,” and called for a full investigation of Netanyahu.
“After the prime minister’s lying, avoiding and whitewashing in disregarding the facts, the right decision was made on the investigation,” said Margalit.
Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich echoed her colleague’s statement, saying that “the evidence grew to be undeniable that the prime minister’s entourage was aware of state secrets, and used them to pocket gross amounts of money at the expense of the citizens of Israel. The only question is whether the prime minister was blind to what was happening under his nose, or whether he took part in the corruption.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the Movement for Quality Government petitioned the High Court of Justice, asking for an injunction requiring Mandelblit to investigate Netanyahu and Shimron in the submarine affair.
The Knesset voted down a Zionist Union proposal to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate possible corruption in the purchase of the submarines, with 40 in favor and 50 opposed.
“Whoever did not want a parliamentary investigation ended up with a criminal one,” Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog said. “If Netanyahu says nothing happened, he should not fear the probe.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman accused his predecessor Ya’alon of not telling the truth regarding the submarine deal.
Ya’alon said last week that he opposed the acquisition and called for it to be investigated.
He called reports about Shimron’s involvement disturbing.
“People in complicated situations sometimes have a problem with their memory,” Liberman said in an interview on stage on Wednesday at the Jerusalem Post Conference with Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz.
Liberman said buying the submarines was the right decision for Israel’s security, and was supported by “a large consensus in the security and political establishment.”
When Katz asked him how many submarines Israel needed, he said, “Count how many submarines our neighbors have together in the Mediterranean Sea.”
Following a speech by Netanyahu in which he boasted of his optimism, Liberman called himself a realist and expressed concern about threats to Israel throughout the region.
“Israel is still facing more challenges than any other state in the world,” he said, singling out Hamas, ISIS, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, al-Qaida, “and behind all of them, Iran.”
Liberman called Iran “the biggest threat to stability all around the world,” but declined to offer advice to US President-elect Donald Trump about how to handle the threat, and whether to cancel the nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic.
Regarding construction in Judea and Samaria, Liberman also advised waiting patiently for Trump to take over on January 20, though he said he did not believe current US President Barack Obama would take action on the Palestinian issue before then.
“I suggest waiting for the new administration,” he said. “It’s crucial not to create slogans or news. We must give enough time to the president- elect to create with us a new approach to Judea and Samaria and the dispute with the Palestinians.”
When Katz asked Liberman about his promise before becoming defense minister that if he ever got the job, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would not live 48 hours, he said: “He is still in the world, but he is not in the Gaza Strip. Next year, ask me the same question.”Eliyahu Kamisher, Daniel Roth and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.