Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Monday told visiting US President Donald Trump that an incident in which several people were injured in Tel Aviv shortly before the president arrived in Israel may have been a terror attack, despite police having told the media that it was a road accident an hour before.
It was later reported that Erdan, who was recently embroiled in another scandal regarding terming an incident terror before it had been fully investigated, had not been updated because ministers had their cellphones taken from them when they underwent security screening ahead of the airport welcoming ceremony.
The accident took place at around 11:30 a.m., approximately an hour before Trump landed at Ben Gurion International Airport.
According to police, a man driving without a license hit a bicyclist, a man on a motor scooter and a pedestrian, injuring them to varying degrees, in central Tel Aviv.
The timing, along with the fact that the driver of the vehicle was Arab, initially raised concerns that the accident was a car-ramming terror attack. However, within 15 minutes, police said they believed it was a car accident and not a terror attack.
An hour later, as Trump was greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a line up of government ministers on the tarmac, Erdan was introduced to the president by Netanyahu as being responsible for internal security.
Trump then quipped, “Who is responsible for external security?” to which Erdan responded, “He is in charge,” and pointed at Netanyahu.
“I thought I was in charge of all security,” Netanyahu said. “You know, terrorists don’t make a difference between internal or external.”
“You know, it is possible that today it was also a terror attack. In Tel Aviv, a [car] ramming. It’s very hard to decide,” Erdan then told Trump.
Channel 2 news reported that Erdan later said he was not able to bring his mobile phone on to the tarmac with him during the welcome for Trump and was therefore not informed on the latest updates from police until after the ceremony.
The last he had heard before meeting the president was that police were still trying to determine the nature of the incident, he explained, according to the report.
However at least one other lawmaker, MK Oren Hazan, managed to bring a phone on the tarmac, snapping a selfie with Trump a few minutes later.
The driver, a 29-year-old Jaffa resident, was detained at the scene for questioning. When it was determined that he had been driving without a license, he was placed under arrest, a police spokesperson added.
According to the Magen David Adom ambulance service, the bicyclist was moderately injured, suffering “head, chest and limb injuries.” He was identified as a 26-year-old man. Medics took him to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital.
The scooter driver and pedestrian — a 40-year-old man and 50-year-old woman, respectively — sustained light injuries. They were taken to Wolfson Hospital, in Holon, south of Tel Aviv.
In February, Erdan was forced to backtrack his insistence that jihadist-inspired terror was behind a controversial incident in a Bedouin village in which a local man was shot dead by police.
In a statement, Erdan — who, in the aftermath of the January 18 incident, asserted that Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an was a nationalistically motivated terrorist, inspired by the Islamic State group — admitted it was “possible” he was mistaken.
The minister came under fire from fellow lawmakers and others after a Justice Ministry probe reportedly found that Abu Al-Qia’an was not a terrorist, but was shot by mistake in the chaos of a pre-dawn operation to raze homes in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran.
The incident took place in the early morning of January 18, when police arrived to demolish houses in the unrecognized village, which the state was seeking to remove in order to clear the way for a new Jewish town.
As officers converged on Umm al-Hiran, Abu Al-Qia’an, 47, a teacher and father of 12, packed a few belongings into his SUV and drove from his house, telling friends that he did not wish to witness its destruction. Soon afterward, the vehicle rammed into a group of officers, killing 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34. Abu Al-Qia’an was fatally shot by police.
Video footage that emerged in the hours after the incident showed that the officers fired before Abu Al-Qia’an accelerated, and that, contrary to police assertions, the car’s lights were on. In addition, Channel 10 reported in January that a police autopsy indicated that a police bullet hit him in the right knee, smashing it. The bullet wound may have caused Abu Al-Qia’an to lose control of his car, the TV report said.
According to reports in Hebrew-language media in February, the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department found no evidence to support the claim that the incident in Umm al-Hiran was a terror attack, and also determined that police officers did not act according to protocol.
Erdan was also criticized for seeming to overplay the number of blazes set during a rash of fires last year as having been set by nationally motivated arsonists.