JERUSALEM – Israel’s defense minister on Sunday announced the creation of a government commission on multi-billion purchases of submarines and missile boats under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an episode often described as the worst corruption scandal in Israel’s history.
The Secretary of Defense, Benny Gantz, took the step largely to pressure Mr. Netanyahu, a political rival, to fulfill their coalition agreements, but it could also further destabilize their already shaky unity government.
Sir. Netanyahu was not identified as a suspect in a previous police investigation into the purchase of submarines and missile boats from Germany that captured several of his close associates. The planned commission of inquiry lacks legal authority. It may summon any witness to testify, but may not compel anyone to appear before it.
“The Department of Defense’s probe may shed light on some of the processes that led to the acquisition of submarines and ships,” Gantz, a former army chief, said Sunday.
A full commission of inquiry that would have more teeth could only be set up with government approval, something that would clearly not be given by Mr. Netanyahu’s Conservative Likud Party.
Mr. Gantz’s more limited measure goes a long way towards satisfying his disgruntled voters and critics within his centrist blue and white party, which has crashed in the polls since Mr. Gantz went back on an election promise and went along with Mr. Netanyahu.
The Likud party strongly criticized Mr. Gantz’s decision Sunday, while dismissing it as an empty political maneuver aimed at reviving his fluttering support.
“Gantz has not been able to get out of the depths of the vote,” the party said in a statement, “so he is reusing the submarines to get votes while his party is busy with internal quarrels.”
Mr. Gantz joined the unitary government in May, declaring that the priority was to deal with the coronavirus crisis and avoid a fourth election after three national votes within a year ended exclusively where neither party was able to muster a majority in parliament. to form a government.
But the Netanyahu-led government is largely paralyzed, with partners fighting over budget deadlines and senior appointments. Likud politicians have made it clear that they do not intend to respect the coalition agreement that should see Mr. Gantz will take over for his post as prime minister in a year’s time.
Sir. Netanyahu is charged with charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three other cases involving allegations of illegal gifts and trading in lucrative official favors in return for favorable media coverage. He has denied wrongdoing.
But the submarine affair has also continued to pave the way for his future. Model submarines have proven widespread as props in anti-Netanyahu marches and protests that take place weekly outside the prime minister’s official residence. Critics have long argued that if Mr. Netanyahu did not know what was going on, he should have done it.