Submarine investigation committee members announced

Due to an extended debate about how to handle classified information witnesses still have not been called.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu climbs out after a visit inside the Rahav, the fifth submarine in the fleet, after it arrived in Haifa's port (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu climbs out after a visit inside the Rahav, the fifth submarine in the fleet, after it arrived in Haifa's port
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on Sunday announced the makeup of the five-member state commission of inquiry into the submarine and naval vessels affair.

The members will be former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis, former Supreme Court justice Zvi Zilbertal, former Bank of Israel governor Karnit Flug, former Navy head Avraham Ben Shushan and former Air Force chief of equipment, Yaakov Burtman.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the loudest government voice in favor of the inquiry, praised the committee members and said that they would restore the public’s faith in the security establishment and major defense deals.

Leading into the nearly two years of election cycles Israel had between late 2019 and mid-2021, there seemed many reasons to have a state commission of inquiry into Case 3000, the Submarine Affair.

But with Benjamin Netanyahu no longer in charge of such national security purchases and no longer even prime minister, and with a criminal trial underway against many of his former aides, but without him, it took the coalition eight months to move it forward.

SUPREME COURT President Esther Hayut arrives to petitions against the Jewish Nation-State Law, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem in December 2020. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)SUPREME COURT President Esther Hayut arrives to petitions against the Jewish Nation-State Law, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem in December 2020. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The inquiry will not be about corruption and bribery; that case has been before the Tel Aviv District Court since 2020. Due to an extended debate about how to handle classified information witnesses still have not been called.

It will be about whether purchasing the submarines was the right policy and whether the right processes and sufficient feedback from the IDF and Defense Ministry were in place for arriving at the correct decision.

For some politicians, it is an opportunity to take additional revenge on Netanyahu and to try to further blacken his name and legacy, both to prevent him from returning to power and to make him suffer after he wielded so much power for so long.

For the military class, it is to set right the wrong that was done to them when Netanyahu ignored their advice on the issues in dispute and to ensure that future Defense Ministry and IDF high command officials have more say in how the finite funding of the defense establishment gets spent.

But the current government’s decision to probe Netanyahu for purchasing three extra and unnecessary new nuclear-powered submarines happened days after it decided itself to purchase three new nuclear-powered submarines.

The Likud said its critics in the current government were doing exactly what Netanyahu did, and paying a higher price. This was noted by former Netanyahu national security council chief Jacob Nagel who at a conference in February 2020 went head to head with former directors-general of the defense ministry, Amos Yaron and Ilan Biran, as well as former national security council chief Uzi Arad who were all slamming Netanyahu for criminal behavior in purchasing the submarines.

Two years before the current government agreed that three new submarines were needed, Nagel was saying that the IDF and navy all agreed that three old submarines would need to be replaced by 2027-2028.

In other words, he said that critics who slammed Netanyahu for allegedly wanting the country to have nine nuclear-powered submarines misunderstood the basic premise that buying submarines 7, 8 and 9 was not to expand, but to maintain a continuous fleet of six submarines even into the future.

Moreover, Nagel said that even as the IDF opposed buying submarines 7,8 and 9 in 2016, there were navy and IDF high command officials who said that the country would need six functioning submarines in the future.

Likewise, Netanyahu’s open or passive approval of Germany sales of submarines to Egypt, was rational, both Nagel and former national security council chief Yaakov Amidror said.

Amidror said supporting Egypt once President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took over from the Muslim Brotherhood could be regarded as a priority.

He also said that if Egypt was expected to acquire submarines, it might be considered preferable that they acquire a design Israel was familiar with, rather than a less familiar design from Japan, France, South Korea or elsewhere.

But most of the defense establishment has flagged a series of serious problems.

The bribery scheme involving Mikki Ganor started in 2009 and went through several rounds from then until 2016.

They say is one thing to start the process to replace submarines in 2022 which will be retired in 2027, as this government has done, it is another thing entirely to do that in 2009 or 2016.

As more than 90% of the defense establishment has said in this dispute, there were many more urgent defense challenges that Israel was having trouble affording during that time period – from Hamas tunnels to Iran.

Just because Netanyahu may not have committed a crime and might have had a rationale does not mean that it was proper management for him to ignore and do end-runs around both the IDF and the Defense Ministry.

Netanyahu hid his moves even from then defense minister Moshe Yaalon and director-general Dan Harel, the top civilian authority experts on the issue. Netanyahu has never really explained why he did so.