JPost Editorial: Submarines and advisers

There is discord and instability throughout the region.

By
November 20, 2016 20:40
3 minute read.
A Dolphin-class submarine

A Dolphin-class submarine broaches in the Mediterranean Sea near Haifa.. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s successful navigation of a turbulent Middle East is undoubtedly one of the reasons he may soon surpass David Ben-Gurion to become the nation’s longest-serving prime minister.

There is discord and instability throughout the region.

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Egypt, whose cold peace has served for decades as a stabilizing factor on Israel’s southern border, underwent a traumatic popular uprising and counter-revolt. The Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed a short-lived rise to power before being deposed by the military junta. Beduin tribes and groups affiliated with ISIS run rampant in the Sinai Peninsula.

The bloody civil war in Syria transformed the region beyond recognition, with almost 5 million refugees scattered across five Arab countries and more distant locations.

Israel’s most committed enemies are involved in the fighting dangerously close to our northern border.

Meanwhile, Iraq has disintegrated into anarchy with various sectarian groups fighting for control, including ISIS.

Libya has splintered into regions along tribal lines and the breakdown in law and order has resulted in huge quantities of arms being smuggled to one of the many hot zones, including the Gaza Strip. Yemen is being torn apart by the conflict between the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

All of this has taken place on the backdrop of the Obama administration’s conscious withdrawal from the Middle East, while Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin has become increasingly involved in Syria and has tried to increase its influence elsewhere.

A leader less astute than Netanyahu could have easily gotten Israel embroiled in one of the many conflicts on our borders.

But now his long-lived stint as prime minister is being threatened by allegations of unethical practices in connection with a multi-billion shekel deal to purchase German submarines.

According to a Channel 10 report, the IDF and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon were opposed to buying three submarines for the Israel Navy because the deal did not fit with the Defense Ministry’s multi-year plan for the military.

But Netanyahu insisted on pushing through the deal.

It has since emerged that attorney David Shimron, who serves as Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, is also the representative for the German shipbuilder that was trying to sell the submarines to Israel.

Heads of the National Security Council, a body operating under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, have come to Netanyahu’s defense challenging what they call “a wave of false reports,” and said that the acquisition was approved by all the relevant bodies – the Defense Ministry, the IDF and the NSC.

That Israel possesses advanced submarines is undoubtedly a strategic plus. They enable Israel to project power far from its shores and give Israel a reported second strike capability.

Clearly there is justification for the purchase. And Netanyahu has succeeded in keeping Israel safe in a very dangerous region. Why not assume the submarine deal is part of his successful strategy? Still, Netanyahu’s use of men such as Shimron and Yitzhak Molcho in official or semi-official roles as negotiators in arms deals and with heads of Arabs states is problematic.

Whether or not Netanyahu knew that Shimron was involved in the negotiations (he says he did not), the imbroglio raises questions.

While we understand the prime minister’s need to surround himself with advisers whom he trusts, he should also do everything in his power to ensure that the decision- making process is not tainted by even the appearance of misdoings.

Netanyahu has proven his ability to navigate the volatile Middle East, and this goes a long way toward explaining his political success over the past decade and a half. It would be a shame if this record of accomplishment were to be undermined by Shimron’s involvement in the German submarine deal. In the future, Netanyahu should maintain a clear distinction between his public role as the leader of the nation and his personal connections with special advisers and negotiators.


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