After Ben Gvir demands spot on war cabinet, PM accuses him of leaking state secrets

In response far-right minister snipes at Netanyahu’s pacemaker; Gantz wonders why PM appointed him to the cabinet and gave him power over police if he believes he is untrustworthy

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, greets National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset on May 23, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, greets National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset on May 23, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

Tensions and chaos in the coalition amplified Wednesday, as the ruling Likud party accused Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir of leaking “state secrets.” This came following the publication of reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had offered Ben Gvir sensitive security briefings in exchange for his support of a key bill.

According to unverified reports in Hebrew media, Netanyahu proposed to include the far-right minister in a limited group of ministers receiving security reviews — in exchange for his support of a controversial bill regulating the appointment of municipal rabbis. The bill eventually fell through.

Ben Gvir has repeatedly demanded inclusion in the now-defunct war cabinet, stating his desire to be among those leading the decision-making in the war. Netanyahu is widely regarded as deeply distrusting the firebrand far-right minister and refusing to include him in such decisions.

Likud in a statement said the reports of the alleged offer were “full of inaccuracies.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu told Minister Ben Gvir one simple thing: Whoever wants to be a partner in a limited security consultation team must prove that he is not leaking state secrets or private conversations.”

Ben Gvir has faced multiple accusations of leaking sensitive information from closed-door meetings to the press.

In response to Likud’s statement, Otzma Yehudit declared that it would support a bill to require cabinet members to undergo polygraph tests. It called on the prime minister “to promote it quickly, provided that it also applies to those with pacemakers.” Netanyahu, who has previously called to subject ministers to polygraph tests, had a pacemaker fitted last year.

Also responding to Likud’s statement, the National Unity party, which joined the war coalition in October but dissolved it recently over the handling of the conflict, slammed Netanyahu, declaring that “someone who believes that there is a minister leaking state secrets should not give him control over the Israel Police and membership in the cabinet.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, during Jerusalem Day celebrations, June 5, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Ben Gvir, a member of the security cabinet but not the war cabinet, has grumbled throughout the war about being left out of decision-making forums by the prime minister.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu announced that the war cabinet — the small body created on October 11 to manage the military campaigns against Hamas and Hezbollah — had been officially disbanded following National Unity leader Benny Gantz’s recent exit from the coalition.

Asked about his demands for a seat in the war cabinet during his party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset last week, Ben Gvir told reporters with a smirk that he does not “speak to the prime minister with threats, but I’m guessing that the prime minister will understand my words.”

“I am demanding it all the time,” he said.

A history of alleged leaks

Since joining the coalition Ben Gvir has amassed a record of alleged leaks.

This March, the National Security Council (NSC) reportedly decided to stop sending representatives to weekly security briefings held by Ben Gvir due to flagrant violations of confidentiality protocols and unprofessional conduct.

According to a report by Haaretz, the NSC decided to stop participating after Ben Gvir and other members of his National Security Ministry entered the briefings with their cellphones in contravention of regulations that are in place due to the classified nature of the discussions.

One of the members of Ben Gvir’s office went so far as to take a picture of a senior Shin Bet official during the meeting, which could be considered a criminal offense, the report said, adding that officials were concerned that free access to cellphones during the meeting has resulted in sensitive information being leaked to the public.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a ceremony for the victims of the 1948 Altalena incident, at Nachalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv. June 18, 2024. (Shaul Golan/Pool/Flash90)

A conflicting report published by the Hebrew news outlet Ynet, however, claimed that Ben Gvir himself had banned the NSC from participating in future security briefings after a heated confrontation with the security body’s representative.

Speaking with Channel 12 news last month, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said his working relationship with Ben Gvir was “not simple” following an incident in which the minister appeared to have leaked a private conversation to embarrass him.

In April 2023, a transcript of a phone conversation between Ben Gvir and Shabtai leaked in which the top cop said it was part of the “nature” and “mentality” of Arab Israelis to kill each other, amid a surging crime wave.

The comments were made during a conversation that the two men were having about a national guard that Ben Gvir is seeking to establish, ostensibly in part to combat record-high crime rates in Arab communities.

Sparring partners

Ben Gvir and Netanyahu have sparred throughout the war over issues ranging from encouraging Palestinian emigration and resettling Gaza to the possibility of a hostage deal with Hamas. On June 6, Ben Gvir announced that as far as he was concerned, Jewish prayer is now allowed on the Temple Mount — prompting a quick rebuff by Netanyahu’s office

Earlier this month, Ben Gvir threatened to bring down the government if a newly proposed hostage release and ceasefire deal was adopted by the government.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at the scene of a fatal shooting attack in Re’em Junction, on February 16, 2024. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

His party later announced that it was reserving the right to not vote with the coalition in the Knesset until Netanyahu revealed details of the deal, which Ben Gvir accused him of hiding. He reversed himself several days later, following Hamas’s rejection of the agreement and Gantz’s coalition exit.

Responding to Ben Gvir and Netanyahu’s dispute on Wednesday afternoon, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called on his coalition partners to stop bickering in the middle of a war.

“We must neutralize petty political emotions,” he declared. “Come, let us fight together against the enemies of the state of Israel [and] not against each other, God forbid.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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