Can next Israeli gov't cancel, ignore three major state inquiries? - analysis

Amid the focus on the corruption trial of Benjamin Netanyahu, most have forgotten the three state inquiries: The Submarine Affair, Mount Meron tragedy and Gilboa Prison breakout.

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)

There has been so much focus on what the incoming government will do regarding the public corruption trial of Benjamin Netanyahu and the judiciary that most have forgotten about the three state inquiries currently operating.

How will the next government handle these three probes: the Submarine Affair – Case 3000, the Mount Meron disaster and Gilboa Prison breakout?

Will it try to cancel them and can it legally try to do so? Might it let them run their course, but ignore their conclusions?

The state inquiry into the Submarine Affair

The most dangerous of the three to the incoming government is the state inquiry into the Submarine Affair.

 Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he addresses his supporters at his party headquarters during Israel's general election in Jerusalem, November 2, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD) Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he addresses his supporters at his party headquarters during Israel's general election in Jerusalem, November 2, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

Unlike the criminal case, which led to indictments against top Netanyahu associates but left Netanyahu himself formally unsullied, the state inquiry, which has a broader mandate, is expected to hit Netanyahu harm for poor management of national security issues and questionable ethics.

At first glance, this inquiry might also be the easiest to cancel.

Due to complex politics and the parallel criminal case, it took years to get the inquiry started, with the inquiry members only named in February and only really starting to work in June.

Despite instructions from the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in March to make more of its operations and hearings public, not a single witness has testified yet in public and the Jerusalem Post has learned that there are no near future plans to do so.

In a June speech, inquiry chairman and former chief justice Asher Grunis said that the commission would focus first on collecting information, documents and preliminary background interviews.

What this has meant is that most of the country has forgotten that the inquiry even exists.

So could Netanyahu cancel it? Maybe.

According to existing law, the government cannot just cancel a state inquiry once it has been authorized.

On the other hand, Israel has no constitution.

So the law for state inquiries could be changed and then the government could cancel the inquiry.

Or the government could starve the inquiry of resources or boycott providing it information.

All of these scenarios are unlikely because the majority of the defense establishment is in favor of some kind of inquiry. Also, informal deals could be cut so that most of the proceedings which could harm Netanyahu could be kept behind closed doors on grounds of national security.

In any case, Grunis is not particularly a fan of transparency for judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings.

Finally, the inquiry is moving so slowly that it could take years to produce conclusions and Netanyahu’s tendency is to avoid potentially politically damaging fights if they are not going to blow up in the near future.

The state inquiry into the Mount Meron disaster

The Mount Meron inquiry is the next most threatening to the government.

The commission, currently headed by former senior judge Devorah Berliner, has warned Netanyahu and Likud MK (and likely future minister) Amir Ohana that they could be found to have either partial criminal or political responsibility for the disaster.

Like the Submarine Affair state inquiry, Netanyahu worked hard to prevent any state inquiry into the issue while he controlled the government, and the inquiry was only given birth after Naftali Bennett took over the premiership.

Unlike the Submarine Affair, the Meron inquiry is likely too far along to cancel without looking like blatant political cowardice and an attempted cover-up.

Also, much of the damaging information is already out in the public sphere, so what is there to cover-up?

Here, Netanyahu is most likely to ignore the inquiries’ conclusions regarding him and to focus on the many others who the commission will also blame – it warned a couple dozen officials.

Given that the community most impacted by the disaster was the haredi community and that the haredi community remained among Netanyahu’s most steadfast allies, this inquiry will damage him, but not bring him down. It is unclear if it might impact Ohana’s future in government.

Though the inquiry could have had implications for Shas Party leader Arye Deri for his role in the incident, ultimately the commission cleared Deri of any wrongdoing.

The state inquiry into the Gilboa Prison breakout

The least consequential for the incoming government is the Gilboa Prison outbreak inquiry.

Not only did the incident occur while Netanyahu was in the opposition, but no one pointed the finger backward at him personally.

Once again, the only incoming official who could be harmed would be Ohana, who had responsibility for the prisons for an extended period leading into the incident.

Although these two incidents could sink Ohana, the fact is that he placed in the Likud top five despite these incidents being known to the public.

So it is probably just a question of whether Netanyahu thinks the utility of having Ohana in a top post is greater than the distraction that he may present when these various affairs come to roost.