Netanyahu says to sue main election challengers for libel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is believed by many analysts to want to avoid another war in the Gaza Strip with unpredictable results ahead of the elections (AFP Photo/AMIR COHEN)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said Friday he is suing his main election rivals for libel, over their comments alleging grave misconduct linked to the purchase of submarines from Germany.

Israel's deal with German industrial giant ThyssenKrupp has been the subject of a lengthy investigation, with police saying in November there was evidence to charge one of Netanyahu's lawyers.

The prime minister was questioned as a witness and is not a suspect, although the case has been dragged up again by his rivals amid fierce election campaigning.

Netanyahu's threat of legal action centres on the newly-minted Blue and White alliance, whose head Benny Gantz claimed the premier profited by 16 million shekels ($4.4 million) from his stock rising on the strength of the submarine deal.

Another Blue and White member, Moshe Yaalon, was asked on Wednesday if he considered Netanyahu had betrayed Israel and its security over the affair.

"The matter is so important that it could reach as far as treason," Yaalon replied, speaking on Israeli public radio. "Let's have it investigated."

Writing on Facebook, Netanyahu said Friday he had instructed his lawyers to sue Gantz and Yaalon.

The premier would also have filed suit against the Blue and White party's co-leader Yair Lapid, he said, but as a member of the outgoing parliament he had immunity.

"The lies of Lapid, Gantz and Yaalon cross a red line on the most sensitive issues concerning Israel's security," he wrote. "So I instructed my lawyers to sue them for libel."

Blue and White's spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Lapid fought back with a Facebook video clip of his own.

"I am waiving my immunity, sue me!" he challenged Netanyahu.

"You know very well that neither I, Benny Gantz nor Yaalon... called you 'traitor' regarding the submarine affair."

Netanyahu is already under threat of indictment for corruption in separate cases and is facing stiff competition from Blue and White ahead of April 9 polls.