Gantz's Submarine Affair probe just the tip of the iceberg

There has been a cloud over this matter for far too long

WILL THE Submarine Affair eventually sink Netanyahu? (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
WILL THE Submarine Affair eventually sink Netanyahu?
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
If, as they say, only one-tenth of an iceberg is visible above the water while the other nine-tenths remain submerged, so is Israel’s so-called Submarine Affair. We only know the scant details that lie above the surface, but there is clearly much more to be revealed before we can fathom the full story.
That’s why Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s announcement on Sunday that he was establishing a ministerial committee to investigate the affair is a controversial, but nevertheless a welcome development.
There has been a cloud over this matter for far too long, and Gantz’s committee will now have the opportunity to clarify whether there was impropriety in Israel’s purchase of naval vessels, including submarines, from Germany.
The committee will probe the affair, also named by the police as Case 3000, which centers on allegations of a massive bribery scheme in the multi-billion-dollar deal in 2016 with German shipbuilder, Thyssenkrupp.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has alleged that senior officials close to Netanyahu were bribed to push for the purchase of unnecessary extra submarines and military surface craft from ThyssenKrupp, but he concluded that Netanyahu himself was not a suspect.
Among those already implicated in the affair who are expected to be indicted are lawyer David Shimron, a confidant and cousin of Netanyahu, David Sharan, a former chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, Avriel Bar-Yosef, a former deputy national security adviser and Eliezer Marom, a former commander of the Navy.
Mandelblit, who has said there is no proof that Netanyahu knew about the submarine scheme, and that at most, he pushed for buying the vessels under suspicious circumstances, responded to Gantz’s announcement by saying he would propose guidelines about which areas the committee should focus or stay away from. Mandelblit’s concern is, apparently, that the committee’s work should not interfere with the pending criminal cases against several former top Netanyahu aides and ex-navy officers.
The committee – headed by Amnon Straschnov, a former Tel Aviv District Court judge and a past IDF military advocate general – has been given four months to deliver its report.
It should be acknowledged that because the committee can only investigate within the Defense Ministry and cannot force Netanyahu or his associates to testify, its mandate and powers are limited. Its recommendations are also not legally binding.
The Movement for Quality Government even complained in a letter to Gantz that a ministerial committee was not good enough, and that a formal state commission of inquiry that has teeth, is needed.
It is also true that after the March 2 elections, Gantz stated that there was no point in forming a commission to probe the purchase of the submarines, because Mandelblit himself had said it was not necessary, and he did not want to harm the coalition government.
Now, Gantz is flexing his muscles. By ordering an investigation and publicly challenging Netanyahu, he is also making clear that he is serious about his other coalition demands, such as passing the state budget and approving new ministerial appointments.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the response of the Likud, the party headed by Netanyahu, was so harsh. The only thing that has changed since Gantz’s statement that no formal inquiry was necessary, the Likud said, is that Blue and White, the party Gantz heads, “is sinking in the polls and is looking to gain votes by targeting the prime minister with futile maneuvers.”
Likud faction chairman, Miki Zohar, said Gantz is well aware that Netanyahu played no role in the Submarine Affair. “He is just looking for an excuse to drag Israel to elections.”
Whether Gantz’s move ultimately triggers new elections is not what’s important. The public need to know what happened with the submarine deal to ensure that agreements of this kind are always made with only the country’s security interest in mind.
Even though what we know now is just the tip of the iceberg, if Netanyahu and his associates – or any other parties – are guilty of misconduct in this matter, we all have a right to know. And if they aren’t, then this probe has the power to exonerate them once and for all.