Photo Credit: Tomer Neuberg, Miriam Alster/FLASH90
MKs Miki Zohar (L) and Ofer Shelah

During a debate at the Knesset State Audit Committee of a proposal to ask the State Comptroller to look into “the state authorities’ handling of the acquisition of vessels from the ThyssenKrupp company and the decision-making process in the matter,” MK Miki Zohar (Likud) turned to Committee Chairman MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) and said, “Ofer, you are the chairman of the State Control Committee. This is perhaps one of the most important committees in the Knesset. I would think that under no circumstance should this committee become a tool for political bickering.”

“I do not rule out the possibility of replacing you as committee chair,” Zohar continued, adding, “In light of the unprofessional conduct that is detrimental to the good reputation of the State Audit Committee – it may be time to reconsider continuing your tenure as committee chairman. I’m sorry. Apparently, the political pressures exerted on you by your party head Yair Lapid and Bogie Ya’alon have led you to this needless and futile debate, so we will consider your replacement.”

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The State Control Committee rejected the proposal by a vote of 7-3, but Zohar’s threat hung in the air for some time, being the only one of its kind in memory. The common avenue to deal with complaints about the decisions of a committee chairman is through the Knesset’s Ethics committee. This frontal challenge against a chairman’s authority to introduce subjects for debates in his committee, coupled with an open threat to use the coalition’s numeric advantage to unseat him was shocking to the Israeli public, and the debate over it is currently raging both in the media and social media.

“We know the truth,” MK Zohar told Chairman Shelah, “You have no way of defeating Netanyahu in the polling stations, so the only avenue you resort to is political and legal persecution of the prime minister.”

Israeli Dolphin class submarine made by ThyssenKrupp / Shlomiliss via Wikimedia

Committee Chairman Shelah noted that “We are talking about hundreds of millions from the defense budget, and side derivatives that are worth a lot of money, without there being a preliminary decision on how many submarines we need.”

“Why weren’t these issues resolved before decisions were made? The State Comptroller’s examination is relevant and should have been conducted even if there was no suspicion of corruption, and now it needed even more when we are talking about suspicion of corruption,” Shelah continued. “Netanyahu has a lot to hide and explain. How did he decide on a sixth submarine, when the security establishment claims, to this day, that only five are needed? How did we purchase expensive vessels specifically from ThyssenKrupp to protect a gas rig that was eventually placed 10 kilometres offshore? This is exactly what a State Comptroller is for, and this is exactly why Bibi instructed his people to prevent him from investigating.”

MK Moshe Ya’alon (Yesh Atid-Telem) echoed the demand for a State Comptroller examination into the affair, and also called for the establishment of a state commission of inquiry.

The Submarine Scandal was originally part of the state prosecution’s investigation of PM Netanyahu, and was dubbed Case 3000 (Netanyahu is currently facing criminal indictments for cases 1000, 2000, and 4000). Case 3000 involves a multi-billion dollar deal to purchase three Dolphin-class submarines and four Sa’ar 6-class corvettes by Israel from the German company ThyssenKrupp. The suspicion in this case refers to swaying the deal in ThyssenKrup’s favor for the personal gain of several of the people involved. Netanyahu’s cousin and personal lawyer David Shimron, who represented the German company in Israel, is one of the main suspects.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told police that Netanyahu tried to push the deal with ThyssenKrupp by canceling a tender for the submarines issued by the Defense Ministry. He also accused Netanyahu of purchasing more submarines than the Defense Ministry wanted. Netanyahu denied Ya’alon’s allegations. Many suspects were detained and interrogated, among them the former commander of the Israeli navy, Vice Admiral (res.) Eliezer Marom, and Avriel Bar-Yosef, former deputy head of the National Security Council, a close affiliate of Netanyahu.

In the end, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decided not to prosecute Netanyahu for the submarines affair, but many in Israel continue to demand further investigation, claiming the PM benefited from his business relations with his cousin in the US whose steel outfit is a supplier for ThyssenKrupp.

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