JERUSALEM – Israel’s Defense Minister on Sunday announced the creation of a government commission of inquiry into the multibillion-dollar purchase of submarines and missiles under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an often-described episode as the worst corruption scandal in Israel’s history.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz has taken the lead largely in pressuring political rival Mr. Netanyahu to respect their coalition agreements, but it could also further destabilize their already unity government. brittle.
Mr Netanyahu was not named as a suspect in an earlier police investigation into the purchase of submarines and missile boats in Germany that caught up with several of his close associates. The planned commission of inquiry has no legal power. He can call any witness to testify but cannot compel anyone to appear before him.
Led by a respected retired judge, Amnon Strashnov, and comprising a former naval commander and former public procurement officials, the committee can have both public and moral weight. The investigation is expected to last around four months and the commission’s findings will be released.
“The investigation by the Ministry of Defense may shed light on some of the processes that led to the acquisition of the submarines and ships”, Mr Gantz, former head of the army, said on Sunday.
A full commission of inquiry, which would have more teeth, can only be established with government approval, which clearly would not be granted by Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party.
Mr Gantz’s more limited measure helps to some extent to satisfy his disgruntled voters and critics within his centrist Blue and White party, which has plummeted in the polls since Mr Gantz reneged on a campaign promise and backed down. is associated with Mr. Netanyahu.
The Likud party sharply criticized Mr Gantz’s decision on Sunday, while calling it an empty political maneuver meant to revitalize its waning support.
“Gantz has failed to get out of the depths of the polls,” the party said in a statement, “so he is recycling subs to garner votes as his party is busy with internal feuds. “
Mr Gantz entered the unity government in May, saying the priority was to deal with the coronavirus crisis and avoid a fourth election after three national polls in one year ended inconclusive, neither party being able to muster a majority in parliament to form a government. .
But the Netanyahu-led government has been largely crippled, with partners fighting over deadlines for a budget and high-level appointments. Likud politicians have made it clear that they have no intention of honoring the coalition deal that was supposed to see Mr Gantz take over as prime minister in a year from now.
Mr. Netanyahu is on trial for corruption, fraud and breach of trust in three other cases involving allegations of illicit gifts and the exchange of lucrative official favors in return for favorable media coverage. He denied the wrongdoing.
But the submarine affair also continued to cast a shadow over its future. Model submarines have widely appeared as props in the marches and anti-Netanyahu protests that take place every week outside the prime minister’s official residence. Critics have long argued that if Mr. Netanyahu didn’t know what was going on, he should have.