Gantz decides to probe Submarine Affair

The committee would not be able to force Netanyahu and his closest associates to testify. It will have four months to draft its report.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset plenum, Oct. 15, 2020 (photo credit: GIDEON SHARON/KNESSET SPOKESPERSON)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset plenum, Oct. 15, 2020
In what seems like a move aimed at deflecting criticism for not bringing down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced on Sunday that he decided to establish a ministerial committee to investigate Netanyahu and his role in the purchasing of submarines and other naval missiles.
The committee will be headed by former Tel Aviv District Court judge Amnon Straschnov, a former IDF chief military counsel. It will also include former navy commander Avraham Ben Shushan and former Defense Ministry acquisitions director Yael Grill.
The committee’s powers will be very limited. It will not be able to force Netanyahu and his closest associates to testify, unless Netanyahu’s government approves it. It can only work inside the Defense Ministry. It will have four months to draft its report.
The Movement for Quality Government complained in a letter to Gantz that a ministerial committee was not enough, and that a formal commission of inquiry with teeth was needed.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (Likud) responded that he may also form a ministerial committee to probe Gantz’s role in the bankruptcy of his former cybersecurity company, The Fifth Dimension, for which Gantz has already been cleared by the attorney-general’s office.
In the past, Gantz has said there was no point in forming a commission to probe buying the submarines, because Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said it was not needed and that he did not want to act as the opposition within the government. The Likud responded that “the only thing that has changed since then is Blue and White sinking in the polls and looking to gain votes by targeting the prime minister with worthless maneuvers.”
Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar said Gantz is aware that Netanyahu “had no role in the so-called Submarine Affair.”
“He is just looking for an excuse to drag Israel to elections,” he said.
Opponents of Gantz in Blue and White said he only announced the committee to make up for criticism for his decision to compromise with Netanyahu on appointments approved in Sunday’s cabinet meeting. In return for approving a new Finance Ministry accountant-general in Yali Rothenberg, Gantz got approval for his own confidant Hod Betzer to be director-general of the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office instead of a director-general for the Justice Ministry.
In response, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel boycotted Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Neither Nissenkorn, nor Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, were told in advance of the deal Gantz made with Netanyahu about the appointments.
Mandelblit responded to Gantz’s announcement on Sunday night, saying he would send guidance in the near future about which areas and issues the commission should stay away from and which areas it would be able to focus on.
Mandelblit’s primary concern was that the commission’s work not interfere with the criminal case pending against several former top Netanyahu aides and navy officials.
The Submarine Affair is an ongoing scandal involving a multi-billion dollar submarine deal with Germany’s ThyssenKrupp AG conglomerate in 2016, also dubbed “Case 3000,” in which the political class has made accusations against Netanyahu despite his being cleared by law enforcement.
Mandelblit has alleged that senior officials were bribed to advocate for the purchase of unnecessary extra submarines and military boats from ThyssenKrupp.
Among those close to Netanyahu and already implicated in the affair are lawyer David Shimron, a confidant and cousin of Netanyahu; David Sharan, a former chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s Office; and Avriel Bar-Yosef, a former deputy national security adviser – all of whom are expected to be indicted by Mandelblit.
But the attorney-general concluded that there is no proof Netanyahu knew about the scheme, and that at most, he pushed for buying the vessels under suspicious circumstances.