Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday rebuffed a request by Education Minister Naftali Bennett to force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to convene a security cabinet meeting on the recent violence emanating from the Gaza Strip.
The response came after Bennett sent a letter to Mandelblit in which he complained that Netanyahu — who is also defense minister — was excluding other members of the high-level panel from decisions on Gaza, where violence flared over the past week and border tensions remain taut.
Shortly after Bennett’s request, Netanyahu canceled a discussion of the top security body scheduled for Wednesday, without providing its members with an alternate date — drawing further ire from Bennett.
Bennett, who heads the recently founded New Right party which is running in the upcoming April 9 Knesset elections, has harshly criticized Netanyahu’s Gaza policy as too soft, presented a policy plan that he claimed would “open the gates of hell” on Hamas, and demanded the post of defense minister in the next government.
“It makes no sense for the prime minister to manage the events in Gaza while excluding the cabinet ministers,” Bennett wrote in his letter to Mandelblit.
He cited recent events, including a rocket launched at Tel Aviv; one that destroyed a house in the Sharon region and wounded seven people; the round of violence that followed; and a mass protest Saturday on the Gaza border marking a year since the start of the so-called March of Return protests. On the governmental level, Netanyahu has been single-handedly overseeing Israel’s response.
“Throughout all those [incidents], the State of Israel has taken limited action in a way that does not create the necessary deterrence against Hamas’s actions, which are aimed at harming the security of the citizens of Israel,” Bennett wrote.
He mentioned that “according to media reports, Israel’s government is conducting advanced negotiations to promote a ceasefire agreement with Hamas,” which he similarly charged was “unreasonable” in that it was only being discussed by the prime minister and the defense establishment, without input from members of the security cabinet.
Bennett said he had contacted the prime minister’s military secretary Avi Blot and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat over the matter, but they had not responded.
“In my opinion, the events of the last several days have caused a significant change in the power balance vis-a-vis the Gaza Strip, which is defined as a hostile enemy entity, in a matter that warrants convening the security cabinet.”
After Netanyahu canceled Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, Bennett released a statement slamming the move as “an abandonment of residents of the south for political reasons.”
“When rockets are falling on the south, its residents and the defense of them cannot be held hostage by an election campaign,” he added. “Netanyahu avoids convening the cabinet because he knows that just like in the operation to destroy the tunnel during Operation Protective Edge [in 2014], I will oppose an embarrassing deal with Hamas and lead a creative plan to defeat Hamas.”
Last week, while presenting an aggressive Gaza policy that would see Israel respond to violence with a massive airstrike campaign, Bennett told a press conference in Ashdod that “the IDF must be given the order to defeat Hamas, to uproot Hamas, to destroy its ability to harm the residents of the south — not to talk about deterrence, but to take Hamas’s sword and break it.”
“A ceasefire will cost us in blood,” he added. “Give me the keys, I know what to do. I know what to implement. I know what to replace. I know whom to replace.”
Asked by The Times of Israel if he was referring to the IDF’s military leadership, Bennett said he would indeed like to see “generals who don’t compromise” promoted to senior positions.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.