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Israeli Cabinet approves probe into submarine affair

Defense Minister Benny Gantz marked an important victory with the government approving his long-standing proposal to establish a state inquiry commission on the "submarine affair."
Israeli Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a Cabinet meeting of the new government at Chagall State Hall in the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 24, 2020.

Israel’s Cabinet voted Jan. 23 for the establishment of a state commission of inquiry, to probe the so-called submarine affair. The commission would examine allegations for corruption in a mega-deal signed in 2016 under the government of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, between Israel and German naval shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp.

The commission is expected to evaluate the relatively rapid decision-making process employed by the political echelon, including by the prime minister and the defense ministries, related to the sensitive procurement. On top of suspicions for bribery, reports published over the years claimed that several senior Israel Defense Forces officers believed the tremendous sum of money allocated to the purchase of the submarines should have been earmarked for more urgent needs. The reports blamed Netanyahu for pushing forward the deal against the expert opinions of security professionals. Netanyahu himself had explained then that the submarines were a necessity in Israel’s armament against a possible Iranian campaign.  

At the time, Israel purchased from ThyssenKrupp both submarines and military ships for a total sum of some $2 billion. Netanyahu, now on trial on three separate cases over allegations for corruption, bribe and breach of trust, was not named as a suspect in this affair, referred to by police as Case 3000. Still, some of his closest associates, including his personal lawyer and family member David Shimron, have been indicted in this case. In 2017, Germany delayed the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Israel over the deal with ThyssenKrupp, because of the investigation launched by Israeli police, but later on the deal was concluded and the submarines delivered to the Israeli marine.

Twenty-six Cabinet ministers backed the proposal to establish an inquiry commission. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was absent from the vote, in support of his Yamina party colleague Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who voted against it. Still, Bennett said he agrees with his coalition partners on the importance of "cleansing the corruption" from the government. "Our sole consideration is the security of Israel. The processes for defense acquisitions in this government are clean of outside considerations. And I'm very happy that an issue that has been unresolved for almost a decade, we have resolved in eight months. We have secured Israel for the next 50 years," noted the prime minister.

Gantz tweeted after the approval, "We promised and we kept our promise. The government approved my proposal to establish a state commission of inquiry into the purchase of the submarines and vessels. The establishment of the committee is a priority security need, and constitutes a clear message that we cannot play around with Israel's security."

The submarine affair became a significant issue in the past four election rounds, with Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid pushing for a state inquiry. Several demonstrations took place over the years with calls for a state inquiry commission, notably in 2020, with convoys of vehicles carrying makeshift submarines and signs calling for Netanyahu to resign over the scandal.