Ben Gvir left out of terror attack security assessment, reportedly over lack of trust

Unnamed coalition members rail against national security minister, calling him ‘barking dog with no bite’ and coalition ‘weak link’; Ben Gvir sends letter demanding cabinet meeting

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a deadly shooting attack near the West Bank settlement of Eli, June 20, 2023. (Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a deadly shooting attack near the West Bank settlement of Eli, June 20, 2023. (Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who heads the ministry in charge of the police, was not invited to a security assessment following a deadly shooting attack in the West Bank Tuesday.

Channel 12 news quoted government officials as saying the omission was deliberate, because the minister, who chairs the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, is not trusted.

Two unnamed coalition members also criticized Ben Gvir after he pushed for a widespread military operation in the West Bank in response to the shooting, the network reported.

Ben Gvir defied a request from the military to stay away from the scene of the attack, where he urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take more drastic action.

“He’s a barking dog that doesn’t bite,” one official said. “He’s a small child who got the security [portfolio] and the whole country is paying the price.”

Another told the channel that Ben Gvir is the “weak link” in the government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a security consultation after the terror attack near Eli on June 20, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Two Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a hummus restaurant and adjacent gas station in the settlement of Eli on Tuesday, killing four Israelis and injuring four others. One of the terrorists was shot dead at the scene by an armed Israeli civilian, while the second fled and was killed some two hours later by special forces.

Among those who attended the Tuesday security consultation with Netanyahu were Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, and the heads of the IDF and Shin Bet security service.

Ben Gvir on Wednesday called for an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the recent deadly events, and demanded to be involved in the discussions, in a letter to National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi.

The minister said he appreciated receiving updates from security officials on the matter but added: “The public elected those appointed as ministers — roles involving making decisions and not getting updates.”

“As you know, this is required by law and it is not for nothing that it has been determined that certain ministers must be at the cabinet meeting and unfortunately they weren’t invited (as you know the obligation is to also invite the foreign minister, justice minister, finance minister and national security minister. As far as I know, none of them were invited or participated in the discussion),” he wrote, referencing the Tuesday evening consultation.

Wednesday morning, Ben Gvir repeated his call for a wide-scale military operation in the West Bank. He also pushed for the establishment of a new settlement in the West Bank following the shooting, labeling such a move a “vital need for the future of Zionism.”

“In addition, now we have to carry out a broad military operation to eliminate the nests of terrorism in the heart of the State of Israel, eliminate terrorists, place roadblocks and bring back targeted killings, in order to restore security to Judea and Samaria,” he said, using the Biblical name for the West Bank.

The anonymous comments against Ben Gvir mark the latest signs of strain between Otzma Yehudit and the other parties in coalition. The minister was also excluded from security cabinet meetings during last month’s clashes between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.

At that time, Otzma Yehudit announced it would skip Knesset votes, citing the government’s “feeble” response to rocket fire from Gaza. Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party responded by telling Ben Gvir he could leave the government if he did not like the way the premier runs it.

Also last month, Ben Gvir blasted Gallant for authorizing the return of the bodies of three Palestinian gunmen from a shootout with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank in March. Ben Gvir slammed the decision to return the bodies, calling it “a serious mistake that will cost us dearly.”

The coalition tensions come with the far-right minister facing intense criticism over rising terror attacks and a sharp jump in murders since he came into office in December after running on a platform of keeping citizens safe.

IDF vehicles during a military operation following a deadly shooting attack in Eli, in the West Bank town of Tubas. on June 20, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

According to the army’s initial investigation of the attack Tuesday, the gunmen arrived at the gas station by car and first opened fire with assault rifles at diners in the adjacent Hummus Eliyahu restaurant, after which the terrorists targeted motorists at the gas station itself. An armed civilian shot dead one of the terrorists, while a second terrorist apparently stole a running vehicle from one of the victims and fled the area.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been elevated for the past year, with the military carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank, amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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