Wednesday, April 17, 2019

What is the German secret of the Israeli submarines’ affair?

It is very likely that there is really a secret Benjamin Netanyahu is unable to reveal and has been disclosed to very few people in Israel in fear that the information will leak. This secret is almost for sure the size of the German monetary compensation, the amount of which could embarrass Chancellor Angela Merkel. This might be true, especially if she did not get the approval of the German parliament.

ThyssenKrupp’s interest in selling submarines to Israel and Egypt is clear, and in the past this firm has been known to bribe, but also of support of government for its international sales. Governments throughout the world tend to subsidize certain local firms, though often it is done informally and without the parliament’s vetting.

One example is the juicy affair of German weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, that lead to the removal of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and in which ThyssenKrupp was involved under its former name. The German leading magazine Der Spiegel commented:
The government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl approved the 1991 sale of 26 Fuchs armored reconnaissance vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a deal which ultimately led to the largest corruption affair in postwar German history.
The affair focused on Thyssen Henschel's [since 1999 ThyssenKrupp] payment of 220 million deutschmarks into dark channels.”

Another example, though not of subsidizing its own industry, but rather of a secret deal, is the German support of the Israeli nuclear project. This government support was not only financial. Germany sent as well a nuclear physicists delegation, the head of which had gathered his experience through working for Nazi atom project.

In 1960 Chancellor Konrad Adenauer announced that he would transfer 500 million Deutsche Marks for the “Negev’s development”. It is known today that the money was actually meant for the so called “textile factory” in Dimona. Neither Germany nor Israel discussed this issue publicly. Only very few knew about the subject that would have been very embarrassing at the time had it become public.

It is important to note that German support did not stem from bad conscience. The most probable reason was that the then German Defence minister, Franz Josef Strauss, wanted to build an Atom bomb for Germany in Israel. This is also the opinion of the journalist Uri Paz, who was close to Mossad head, Isser Harel.

As to the submarines’ sales, it is known that Angela Merkel put heavy pressure on the Israel PMs Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu in this matter. Former Production and Procurement Directorate head Brigadier-General (res.) Shmuel Tzuker has more than hinted about it in his interview with the investigative journalist Raviv Drucker on 16.7.2017 (the interview is available only in Hebrew):

At the same time there was pressure on the Ministry of Defence. It came from many sources and from many letters that went through the National Security Council (NSC). I remember I accidentally met a senior representative of the NSC who told me, “if you will not cancel the tender, the relationships between Mrs. Merkel and the Prime Minister will be your responsibility. If she will vote against the [Israeli] settlements [in the West Bank], you will know that you deserved it”, he said. When he was asked if the NSC’s representative was Avriel Bar Yosef, who was questioned about it, he neither confirmed nor denied.

He also added, “There was an event I attended in Germany. Late at night I received a phone call from the same person. He said he wanted to meet me in Germany and that the Germans really intend to give us this grant, so we should cancel the tender. This man represented the NSC. He represented the Prime Minister.”

It is unlikely that the German pressure impressed Netanyahu, who did not succumb to a much heavier pressure put on him by former US president Barack Obama. Since nothing is free in this business, it is likely that Merkel did not only pressurize, but also made a very tempting offer. Merkel had a clear interest to create or maintain jobs in Germany and, as mentioned above, in light of past experience we cannot dismiss the possibility that the Chancellor or her party were bribed by the company. In any case, there cannot be any doubt that the German government decided to subsidize ThyssenKrupp. It is hard to determine the size of the sum. Publically the subsidy covered “only” a third of the submarines’ price. Based on former cases it could, however, be much higher, and it was not only through a German pledge to buy Israeli goods for equal price.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved personally a deal for Germany to sell Egypt submarines in 2015. This approval carried clearly a substantial political and/or financial compensation for Israel.

In this context it is worth mentioning that one of the main reason for the Reparations Agreement between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany

in the 1950s was not German bad conscience, but primarily the need to get Israel’s approval of  rebuilding German armed forces. In fact, at least at that time reparations payments were a kind of subsidy to the German industry. An important part of reparations was delivered to Israel as ships and other equipment and goods. 

Netanyahu cannot expose publicly the real compensation Germany paid for the sub deals. Such an exposure would embarrass most probably Merkel.  This consideration might explain why it was necessary to keep it a secret and why the prime minister did not involve the commander in chief and the minister of security in the Egyptian deal. It is not unusual that an Israeli leader independently decides to take an important step. The Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan for example, decided alone to conquer the Golan Heights in the Six Days War, after he had rejected this idea until the morning of June 9th 1967.

He, [General David Elazar] went on and said that Dayan told him the reasons for the decision - the fact that the Egyptians did not accept ceasefire so far, the reluctance to get involved in a long war in two fronts, the uncertainty about the Russian’s reaction and the high number of casualties in the Israeli side, as well as the lack of knowledge of what might happen in the Golan Heights” (Shlomo Man, “Dayan in the Syrian front”, Heb.). When information came on 8.6.1967 about the withdrawal of the Syrian army and of the Egyptian agreement to ceasefire Dayan decided to occupy the Golan without consulting anyone.

The head of the Israeli armed forces General Shaul Mofaz and the High Command took a very grave act at the beginning of the Second Intifada in October 2000. According to the investigative journalist Ben Kaspit’s well founded research (The Second Anniversary of the Intifada," Maariv 6 September 2002 (Heb.), the High Command bypassed the political rank and actually committed a “quiet” military coup.


It is worth noting that it is unclear whether the German submarine deal with Egypt actually threatens Israel. It might actually strengthen the cooperation with Egypt,  at least in the short range. It is also hard to determine whether the upgraded submarines supplied to Egypt are significantly more dangerous than the “simple” ones discussed before.

In principle, one has to judge the legitimacy of certain steps not by the number of people who were involved but by the quality of the decision. Many bad decisions were made by groups of people, and there are many examples for that in elections, referenda etc. 


Translation: Shirli Sela-Levavi




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