Not Just Submarines: The "IDF Navy Affair"

The submarine procurement investigation is evolving into an elaborate affair. Also: what Netanyahu could have asked from Trump with regard to Iran, and why the IDF is among the world's least professional military organizations. Amir Rapaport's weekly column

PM Netanyahu boards the navy ship INS Eilat (Photo: AP)

The "Submarine Affair" – situation report: after two months of investigations and a parade of investigated persona from the top political and defense echelons, this affair has taken a new direction: from submarines to surface vessels and from the Prime Minister's Office to the IDF Navy.

The affair had exploded pursuant to the initial report by Israel Defense and Makor Rishon on October 14, 2016, to the effect that Israel intends to purchase new submarines from Germany. The storm broke out when it was realized that former Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon had opposed the procurement of the submarines, and that the Prime Minister's personal attorney, David Shimron, was working closely with businessman Mickey Ganor who represents the German shipyard.

Several investigative efforts are currently under way regarding this affair – by the Israeli and German media as well as by Member of Knesset and millionaire Erel Margalit, whose people are leaving no stone unturned in northern Germany, in their attempts to find the 'smoking gun' that might bring about the political elimination of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The most significant investigative effort is being carried out, quite naturally, by the Israel Police.

Two key witnesses have become much more accessible as far as the investigators are concerned: the former Head of IMOD's Procurement & Production Administration (MANHAR), Brig. Gen. (res.) Shmuel Zucker, who had led the procurement processes opposite Germany and has retired two weeks ago, and IMOD's legal counsel, attorney Ahaz Ben-Ari, who will conclude his term in office in about two weeks' time (initially, he will be replaced by one of his subordinates, attorney Nissim Zimbera).

Some of the key facts that are being clarified: attorney Ahaz Ben-Ari, so it appears, failed to provide the senior officials of the defense establishment with information regarding the fact that attorney David Shimron had sent him a letter regarding the submarine transaction, and for this reason those officials were unaware of Shimron's involvement. On the other hand, attorney Shimron had not accompanied the submarine transaction from afar – he even accompanied Ganor on some of his visits to the shipyard in Germany. Did he report this to the Prime Minister? The investigators must have presented this question to him, but we are unable to say what his answer was.

For now, based on the testimonies, it appears that as far as the Prime Minister is concerned, what we have here is an embarrassing and even "unsavory" event, although it probably does not have a criminal significance. Regardless of the issue of Shimron's problematic involvement, the decision to purchase the submarines can be regarded as reasonable despite Ya'alon's objection, as it was allegedly intended to take advantage of a generous German grant and a particularly friendly German government headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel (a government that will not necessarily remain in power indefinitely). This could explain the fact that the decision to purchase the submarines was made this year, although the submarines are intended to be delivered to Israel only in about a decade or more.

Meanwhile, the affair that started as an annex to the submarine procurement investigation, which concerns the purchase of surface vessels from the same shipyard for securing Israel's economic sea zone, appears to be more problematic than the submarine issue as the investigation unfolds. The reason – an international tender had already been issued for the purchase of the surface vessels, and that tender was cancelled pursuant to intervention "from high up" – an intervention that can hardly be explained. In this context, the investigators are having a hard time obtaining a convincing explanation as to why the IDF Navy had forced the German shipyard to replace their permanent agent – which led to Mickey Ganor being appointed as their agent instead of Shaike Bareket. This unusual intervention raises some poignant questions, which could subsequently evolve into the "Navy Scandal". Hopefully, things will be clarified within the next few weeks.

Netanyahu, Trump & Iran

Far away from the interrogation rooms, the Prime Minister had a cause to be delighted this week during his visit to Washington. The statements made by President Donald Trump during his joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, starting with the Iranian issue, reflect the defense-related priorities in the contacts between the two countries in the era of the new administration: Iran first and foremost, followed by wide regional issues that include the interests of Arab countries regarded as "moderate" and as Israel's allies, like Jordan and Egypt, and the Palestinian issue last.

As far as the Iranian issue is concerned, it may be assumed that more interesting statements were made at the most intimate forum that includes both Netanyahu and Trump (possibly eye to eye). How will Israel and the USA respond in the event that it turns out that Iran is violating the nuclear agreement? Will the USA provide Israel with strategic bunker-busting munitions that the previous administration had refused to provide? Presumably, these issues were raised in the conversations between the President and the Prime Minister. Whether or not they were actually discussed, the fascinating protocol will remain completely withheld.

Eizenkot's Mid-Term

The government's decision to extend Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot's tenure as the IDF Chief of Staff by another year, so as to allow him to serve a total of four years in that position, has been taken for granted (although in the past, defense ministers used to exhaust the serving chiefs of staff until their fourth year in office would be approved, and that does not include Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who sent Chief of Staff Ya'alon home after only three years). The reason for the consensus regarding Eizenkot is the fact that he is conceived as one of the best chiefs of staff ever to command the IDF. Following the government's decision to extend his term, Eizenkot has just completed one half of his tenure – two out of four years.

Eizenkot's mid-term evaluation report is very good for several reasons: he entered office as a mature and highly experienced officer; he is level-headed and leads far-reaching reforms within the IDF in a judicious, gradual manner; he has almost completely eliminated the "faction culture" that was the number one factor in the appointment of senior officers for decades, and above all – luckily for him, so far no significant military confrontation has taken place during his shift (which, god forbid, might have exposed faults and failures that are not visible on the surface in a period of relative tranquility).

Unprofessional Military

Eizenkot is unable to cure one chronic disease, however – the appalling lack of professionalism that plagues many branches of service within the IDF (excluding the IAF, the Navy, the Intelligence Directorate and special operations units). Most IDF layouts will be regarded as possessing a low level of professionalism compared to other armed forces around the world, for a range of reasons – relatively short tenures in every position, leading to poor organizational memory, the embarrassing lack of intellectual curiosity among too many officers, who are often busy pleasing and flattering their superiors who would determine their next appointment, instead of immersing themselves in an in-depth study of the profession on the basis of extensive international knowledge.

The lack of professionalism that is typical of substantial elements within the IDF was also reflected in the two sensitive appointments Eizenkot has made recently: the appointment of Col. Ronen Manelis as the new IDF Spokesperson and the appointment of Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz (the outgoing IDF Spokesperson) as the Head of the IDF Personnel Directorate.

Manelis, a former intelligence officer and a senior aide at the Chief of Staff's office in recent years, possesses no experience or knowledge that could facilitate his entrance into the office of IDF Spokesperson. Likewise, the extent to which Almoz, a former engineering and civil administration officer, understands personnel issues is minimal. Both appointments may be regarded as strange, just like the hypothetical appointment of an adjutancy/administration officer to the position of Head of the IAF's Aircraft Group (a totally inconceivable suggestion). However, in the context of the existing IDF culture, these appointments are conceived as "perfectly reasonable". No question has been raised as to why major organs like the IDF Spokesperson and the IDF Personnel Directorate had not produced professional candidates qualified to man the position at the top of the pyramid.

One thing that may be said in favor of Manelis' appointment is that in the past, several IDF spokespersons had hailed from the intelligence layout and did very well in this position (although they had entered office after longer careers and at more senior ranks than Manelis').

A Traumatic Experience in Cairo

The reports regarding the recalling of the staff of the Israeli embassy in Cairo, released this week only after having been exposed first by the British Telegraph, can be easily understood against the background of the traumatic experience of September 8, 2011.

That night, just before the ascent to power (albeit temporary) of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Israeli embassy in Cairo was nearly captured by a mob and six security officers still manning the embassy were very nearly lynched.

The story of that night has not been told in detail yet – far from it. Only the general details became known, and they are reminiscent of the capturing of the US Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, as depicted in the film Argo: while the masses were climbing from window to window of the high-rise building where the embassy was located in the Giza neighborhood of Cairo, telephone conversations were being conducted across the globe. Only pursuant to the personal intervention of the US President, an Egyptian commando unit was dispatched which managed to extricate the Israelis before they fell into the hands of the mob. Luckily, sensitive material kept at the embassy was not looted. The full story of these dramatic events, which ended reasonably well, will be told sometime.

Meanwhile, at the Israel Security Agency they are preoccupied with the current alerts, and there are many of those: you do not have to be a qualified intelligence professional to understand that many organizations have an interest in hitting an Israeli ambassador on Egyptian soil. Consequently, the absence of the Israeli staff from the embassy in Cairo may take a long time before the embassy is manned again.

Death of a Pilot

Not many of you have heard about the death of pilot Eitan Carmi (very little was written about it in the press), but there is a reason why IAF legends from the era when they still counted the number of enemy aircraft shot down gathered at the cemetery in Savyon earlier this week to accompany Carmi on his last journey and lay him to rest.

Carmi was credited with the most unusual kill in IAF history: at the height of the Yom-Kippur War (1973), while flying his Mirage fighter, he shot down a Russian-built Kelt missile launched by an Egyptian Tu-16 bomber flying over the Mediterranean Sea in the direction of Tel-Aviv.

Carmi subsequently survived after having been shot down at high altitude over Syria, and took part in various missions bordering on fiction. He died as a flight instructor. An aircraft he was flying with a trainee burst into flames after landing at an airstrip in the Sharon region. The trainee emerged unharmed, but Carmi suffered severe burns and died at the Sheba Medical Center after being hospitalized there for a few weeks.


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