The government will reportedly soon vote on the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the so-called “submarine affair,” a murky deal between Israel and a German shipbuilder for naval vessels that has already resulted in multiple indictments.
Channel 12 reported Friday that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar have agreed to move ahead with the vote, possibly as soon as the coming week. Israeli daily Ha’aretz said the vote may take place sometime “this month” with Bennett still undecided on his vote.
Both news networks reported that the vote will be brought to the government after an agreement is finalized with Germany to purchase Dolphin-type submarines, a deal Bennett had signaled to former German chancellor Angela Merkel that he was hoping to advance. The deal is expected to close soon, according to Channel 12.
In October 2018, Germany approved a memorandum of understanding with Israel for the construction of three Dolphin-type submarines to be added to Israel’s fleet of six submarines, after the purchase stalled during an Israeli investigation into alleged corruption and bribes to seal the deal.
Reports at the time indicated that the agreement included a clause according to which the deal would not advance further while the corruption investigation was ongoing. It also gave Germany the right to withdraw from the deal regardless of whether any criminal conduct was ultimately uncovered by police in the purchase.
The scandal came to be known as the “submarine affair,” or Case 3000, and revolved around the allegations of a massive bribery scheme in Israel’s multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels — submarines and large missile ships — from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp. Several of those involved in the agreement have been indicted over the affair, including close confidants of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called for the procurement, though not the ex-premier himself.
The scandal also involved the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines and two anti-submarine warships by Germany to Egypt, allegedly approved by Netanyahu without consulting or notifying then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz. Israel had long been granted an unofficial veto over such sales by Germany.
While several of Netanyahu’s close associates have been indicted in the case, which involves suspicions Israeli officials were bribed to ensure Thyssenkrupp won the contract, the former premier has not been directly implicated and the attorney general has said he is not a suspect.
In October, the state prosecution told the High Court of Justice that it believed there was no justification to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu over the matter. He is already on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three other cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing and claims to be a victim of an attempted political coup involving the police, prosecutors, left-wing opposition and the media.
Gantz, now defense minister, submitted a formal request for a government inquiry back in October, after Sa’ar had indicated he would support the move. The probe also has the support of Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman.
Though there have long been calls for a government investigation into the affair by opponents of Netanyahu, his supporters have claimed that such a probe would be politically motivated, an allegation that Gantz has rejected.
“The formation of the commission is critical for the defense establishment and the State of Israel — if we do not uncover the truth, we will not be able to learn lessons for the future,” Gantz said in October.
His proposal called for NIS 9 million ($2.85 million) to be budgeted for the commission of inquiry, with NIS 7 million ($2.22 million) coming from his Defense Ministry and NIS 2 million ($630,000) from the Justice Ministry.
Lapid had called the “submarine affair” the “gravest security scandal in the history of the state.”
Though Gantz said the probe was meant to ensure Israeli citizens’ trust in the country’s defense apparatus, under his proposal the details of the inquiry would be kept almost entirely secret.
Since the affair came to light in 2016, there have been multiple attempts to form a state inquiry of commission into the deal, including one by Gantz in 2020, when he attempted to probe the purchase with an internal Defense Ministry investigation. That effort was thwarted by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who said it would interfere with his own criminal probe into the affair.