The government approved on Sunday the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair, which revolves around allegations of a bribery scheme in the purchase of German ships six years ago.
The graft scandal surrounds a possible conflict of interest and bribery involving a $2 billion purchase of naval vessels from Germany's Thyssenkrupp that implicated some of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's closest associates. The former prime minister was questioned, but not named as a suspect, in the scandal, referred to as "Case 3000."
Twenty six ministers voted for the establishment of a state investigation into the case, while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett abstained.
He said, however, he has abstained as an act of solidarity with his Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who opposes a probe that would investigate the previous government, but added he agree with his coalition partners on the importance of "cleansing the corruption" from government.
"Our sole consideration is the security of Israel," said Bennett. "The processes for defense acquisitions in this government are clean of outside considerations. And I'm very happy that an issue that has been unresolved for almost a decade, we've resolved in eight months. We've secured Israel for the next 50 years."
The issue was supposed to be discussed at the cabinet meeting last week, but in the end, the discussion was postponed and was held on Sunday afternoon.
Back in October 2020, Defense Minister Benny Gantz examined the possibility of forming a committee to investigate the alleged submarine graft case following leaks alleging Netanyahu's involvement.
The deal to procure the submarines for the Navy was signed in 2016 and involved former Netanyahu, personally. Case 3000 allegedly saw Israeli officials advocating for the purchase of submarines and patrol boats from the German shipbuilder in return for kickbacks. Netanyahu is also accused of approving Thyssenkrupp's sale of submarines and anti-submarine warships to Egypt.
After the vote, Gantz said: "We promised and kept our promise, the government approved my proposal for the establishment of an inquiry committee into the submarine vessel affair. And this investigation is of the highest security necessity, and a clear message that you cannot play with Israel’s defense.”
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said the government investigation “is a critical step in the fight against corruption and is essential for the defense establishment.”
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday called the matter “the most serious corruption scandal in Israel’s history.”
Anti-Netanyahu protesters who demonstrated outside his Jerusalem residence until his ouster from office last year had called for an investigation into his role in the submarine scandal.
Last week Israel signed an agreement with Germany to purchase three top-of-line submarines from Thyssenkrupp for three billion euros ($3.4 billion) to replace older ships retiring at the end of the decade. The Defense Ministry said they were not part of the state investigation.
Associated Press contributed to this report