Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not face a police investigation into the circumstances of Israel’s controversial submarine deal with the German firm ThyssenKrupp, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced Sunday in a meeting with State Attorney Shai Nitzan and top Justice Ministry officials.
Mandelblit and Nitzan agreed in the meeting to continue looking into the deal and whether Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimron violated written commitments to prevent conflicts of interest by representing Miki Ganor, ThyssenKrupp’s representative in Israel.
They said in a statement that only after more legal vetting would there be a decision on whether to proceed with an official probe
of the matter. Another high-level meeting will be held later this week.
Shimron underwent a polygraph test in which he was truthful in saying he did not speak to the prime minister about submarines or his representation of Ganor. Shimron revealed that he made no money off the submarine deal but was paid a monthly retainer by Ganor of a few thousand dollars.
Netanyahu said Sunday the submarines are necessary for Israel’s national security.
“As the prime minister of Israel, I dedicate the majority of my time to ensuring Israel’s security,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of his weekly cabinet meeting. “The principle that guides me is clear – that Israel will be able to defend itself by itself against any enemy in any realm.”
“These are strategic weapons that ensure Israel’s future and, I tell you, the very existence of Israel for dozens of years to come,” he said. “The strengthening of Israel’s power is the only consideration that guided me in purchasing the submarines. It is the only consideration that always guides me, and nothing else.”
Last week, it surfaced that Shimron had pushed Netanyahu to make the deal with ThyssenKrupp, even though he faced stiff opposition from the military, including then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, speaking to reporters before the cabinet meeting, said the whole affair is an attempt to harm Netanyahu politically.
The prime minister already is embroiled in a scandal over his and his spouse’s expenses, and also is the focus of a probe into allegations of abusing household staff.
“Those who could not defeat Netanyahu at the ballot box are looking for all kinds of other ways to beat him, but they will not succeed,” said Elkin.
According to Elkin, who was a member of the security cabinet and former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the discussions surrounding the purchase of the submarines were not influenced by any outside considerations.
Acting National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel, however, says Ya’alon may not have known about parts of the deal.
Speaking to Channel 2’s Meet the Press
, Nagel confirmed he had instructed the National Security Council to begin discussions with the defense establishment about enlarging Israel’s submarine fleet. The NSC then held discussions with both the IDF and Defense Ministry where, according to Nagel, “it was decided – based on the defense establishment’s position – that there was no need for more than six submarines.”
While the official reasoning behind the purchase of the submarines is to replace the current, older vessels, Nagel’s statement seems to indicate that the original intention of the deal was to increase the size of the submarine fleet. And, according to Nagel, a proposal to buy two new ships was part of a draft letter Netanyahu had planned to give German Chancellor Angela Merkel, though it was removed from the final version following opposition from Ya’alon and the defense establishment.
According to an earlier report by Channel 10, Netanyahu began negotiations with the Germans without telling Ya’alon, who only found out about the deal when it was leaked to the media.
Ya’alon initially had succeeded in stopping the planned purchase but, after he stepped down as defense minister, Netanyahu renewed the negotiations with Berlin.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page on Thursday night, Ya’alon said the report was “disturbing” and called for a “comprehensive examination of the relevant facts.”
Yet, while the uproar over the deal has many roiling, Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett voiced support for Netanyahu, tweeting: “About the submarines. Prime Minister Netanyahu is not corrupt. He would never sell out Israel’s security for money.”
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (Likud) also came to Netanyahu’s defense, tweeting: “How low can you sink? You’ve reached the bottom and haven’t found anything. It’s time to release the pressure.”
Israel currently has three Dolphin-class submarines and two Dolphin 2-class submarines (another one is expected to be delivered in 2018). The new Dolphin 2-class submarines, which would not reach Israel’s coast for another decade, are expected to replace the older Dolphins at a cost of combined price of NIS 5 billion.
Over the weekend, several opposition MKs demanded that an official and criminal investigation be launched to review the allegations.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, who also has served as defense minister, took to his Twitter account on Saturday saying that while submarines “are vital, the public’s trust is even more essential. There are many question marks. That’s why it’s imperative that we investigate, like Bogie [Ya’alon] says. In Germany, too, retroactively.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, meanwhile, called on the attorney-general to launch a criminal investigation into the matter, telling Channel 2: “None of us knew that the prime minister’s personal lawyer was involved in these deals. Why did the Germans hire Shimron? Because of his knowledge? They hired him because he is the closest man to the prime minister and then a situation evolves in which we are negotiating with the Germans and the Germans know the lawyer is working for them – and we don’t know.”
The “decisions were made in an unprofessional manner,” Lapid said, adding: “We voted on it at the cabinet and at the ministerial committee, had discussions with the National Security Council, and all of this time none of us knew the prime minister’s personal attorney was involved in these deals.”
Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli also called for a criminal investigation into the matter, saying that while the “need to acquire submarines in favor of maintaining the security of the State of Israel is a legitimate question,” there are “serious revelations about [the dealings behind the acquisition being] flawed and corrupt.”
“When the former defense minister, Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya’alon, said he did not know all the details of the deal, it is not enough to order an investigation? No one knew about the clear conflict of interest and improper connections of Shimron. Can we really rely on the simple answer from the prime minister that he did not know about the connection between the man with whom he consults on all interests and a submarine deal worth billions?”
But Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara said at Sunday’s Likud ministers’ meeting that the press should stop talking about the submarines, because the issue is irrelevant.
“The prime minister is like a submarine, and he will lead Israel to safe waters,” Kara said.