JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday tried to downplay a brewing scandal over the purchase of German submarines, saying his only consideration in ordering the deal was fortifying the country's security.
Netanyahu's comments came amid calls for an inquiry after it was revealed that his personal attorney, David Shimron, had represented the German company building the submarines.
The reports into Shimron's involvement in the $1.5 billion sale raised concerns over a potential conflict of interests. Suspicions of impropriety were heightened after former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said he was sidelined on the purchase plans — which went forward after he was replaced.
Israel has ordered six submarines from Germany over the past two decades, with the final one scheduled to be delivered in 2018. Israel recently decided to purchase three new ones to replace its older submarines.
"The security of Israel requires the acquisition of submarines and the renewal of the submarine fleet. These are strategic weapons systems that ensure the future, and I tell you, the very existence of the state of Israel for decades to come," Netanyahu told his Cabinet. "Increasing the security and strength of the state of Israel is the only consideration that guided me in acquiring the submarines."
The subs are considered crucial to Israel's security, particularly since they are assumed to provide it with a "second strike" nuclear capability if ever attacked by nuclear weapons. Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, though it has never acknowledged having them.
But the involvement of Shimron, perhaps Netanyahu's closest associate, raised concerns that ulterior motives were at play. Netanyahu says he was only made aware of this in recent days.
"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?" wrote Yediot Ahronot columnist Ben-Dror Yemini.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog has called for a parliamentary commission of inquiry to be established.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak also chimed in, tweeting: "Submarines are essential, the public's trust is even more essential."