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Netanyahu Faces Conflict of Interest Scrutiny in Submarine Deal


The Tanin, one of five submarines that make up Israel’s current fleet, at a naval base in Haifa in 2014. Credit Pool photo by Amir Cohen

JERUSALEM — Dogged for decades by scandals ranging from how family trips were funded to enormous ice cream bills, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is again under scrutiny, this time over a billion-dollar deal with Germany for the acquisition of three new submarines.

Political opponents are calling for an inquiry into what they view as the murky circumstances surrounding the framework agreement reached with Germany over the last year, apparently at Mr. Netanyahu’s urging, to buy the boats.

Mr. Netanyahu, one of Israel’s longest serving prime ministers who is now serving a fourth term in office, faces allegations of a possible conflict of interest within his inner circle in making the deal.

The issue came to light when Israel’s Channel 10 News reported last week that Mr. Netanyahu’s personal lawyer also represents the Israeli agent of the German shipyardthat builds the submarines, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. Both Mr. Netanyahu and the lawyer, David Shimron, have denied any impropriety.

“The security of Israel requires the acquisition of submarines and the renewal of the submarine fleet,” Mr. Netanyahu said on Sunday in remarks broadcast at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “Increasing the security and strength of the state of Israel is the only consideration that guided me in acquiring the submarines.”

There were conflicting reports in the Israeli news media on whether the three additional submarines were meant to replace aging ones or to increase Israel’s current fleet of five submarines, with a sixth to be delivered in 2017. Submarines ordered now would not go into service for another decade.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Moshe Yaalon last year. Mr. Yaalon was defense minister at that time, but has since been replaced. Credit Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press

Moshe Yaalon, a former Israeli defense minister who resigned in May after Mr. Netanyahu promised his job to another politician, wrote on Twitter that he had “strenuously opposed” increasing the fleet by three submarines, saying the military did not need them.

Israeli security experts said it was the prime minister’s prerogative to make such strategic decisions about increasing or updating the fleet.

But Israeli commentators have focused on the role of Mr. Shimron, Mr. Netanyahu’s lawyer.

A statement issued by the prime minister’s office on Thursday said that Mr. Shimron had never discussed submarines with Mr. Netanyahu. The first Mr. Netanyahu knew of Mr. Shimron representing the businessman linked to the naval project, it said, was when Channel 10 asked for a response to its report.

Yair Lapid, the leader of a centrist opposition party, said that if Mr. Netanyahu did not know, he should have.

“Why did the Germans retain Shimron?” Mr. Lapid asked on Israel’s Channel 2 News, saying it was not because of his expertise in submarines. “They retained him because he is the man closest to the Israeli prime minister,” Mr. Lapid said. “The Germans knew that the prime minister’s personal lawyer was working for them, and we didn’t know.”

Mr. Shimron has denied any ethical offense in not reporting his association with Miki Ganor, the Israeli representative of the German shipyard.

But some Israeli analysts were skeptical given Mr. Shimron’s ties to Mr. Netanyahu.

The political columnist Ben-Dror Yemini wrote in Sunday’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper, “After all, this is the prime minister’s royal attorney, who is also a private attorney, and the Netanyahu family lawyer, and also a lawyer who serves as the prime minister’s official representative. He has a finger in every pot. And it was Netanyahu, of all people, who did not know that Shimron was involved with the submarines? Strange.”

Source: NYT > World

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