New Right party leader Naftali Bennett on Sunday accused ex-army chief Benny Gantz and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon of being responsible for the deaths of two IDF soldiers, and the snatching by Hamas terrorists of one their bodies, during the 2014 conflict in the Gaza Strip.
“This entire terrible incident is due to the rules of engagement that Benny Gantz and Bogie placed on IDF soldiers,” Bennett said using Ya’alon’s nickname, during an interview with Radio 103FM.
Gantz and Ya’alon are both top members of the Blue and White party running for the Knesset, and looking to unseat the current coalition, which includes Bennett.
Gantz was Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and Ya’alon was defense minister during Operation Protective Edge, a seven-week conflict, in which the IDF battled against Hamas-led Palestinian terror groups inside the Gaza Strip.
A key Israeli objective was the destruction of cross-border tunnels, dug by Hamas and used to carry out attacks inside Israeli territory. Bennett was economy minister at the time and also a member of the security cabinet, which made the top-level decisions during the campaign.
There were various, temporary, Egypt-brokered lulls in the fighting over the course of the campaign, which ran from July 8 to August 26, 2014.
During one of those lulls, on August 1, 2014, IDF Maj. Benaya Sarel and Lt. Hadar Goldin were participating in an operation to find and destroy Hamas tunnels in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Their force was ambushed by Hamas gunmen and both were killed, with the terror group grabbing Goldin’s body.
Goldin’s remains and those of IDF soldier Oron Shaul, who was killed in a separate incident on another day, are both still believed to be held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Bennett told the radio station that IDF soldiers were operating “under terrible rules of engagement. They sent soldiers, told them ‘go and deal with the tunnels but don’t open fire.'”
“I am describing for you the kidnapping incident of Hadar Goldin, and that entire terrible incident was due to the rules of engagement that Benny Gantz placed on the IDF soldiers, and Ya’alon, as a result of the delusional ceasefire agreements which basically said ‘Go, fight, but without shooting unless they first shoot at you.’ That is exactly what happened, they fired on them first — and therefore Benaya Sarel was killed.”
Bennett vowed that his New Right party, which polls have given around 4-6 seats following coming April 9 elections, was very unlikely to sit with the Blue and White party led by Gantz.
Ya’alon, who is third on the Blue and White elections slate, responded in a video published to his Facebook page, in which he called Bennett a liar and criticized him for using the memory of deceased IDF soldiers for political gain.
“How much can you lie, Naftali Bennett, and that on the blood of soldiers? That is how you irresponsibly behaved in Protective Edge, and that is how you continue to behave in the period afterwards,” said Ya’alon, who is also a former IDF chief of staff. “You are a cabinet member, you leak from inside [the cabinet], you come out against decisions that everyone has a collective responsibility for, and, in particular, you dance on the blood of soldiers. Stop lying. Lies don’t establish leadership. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
In January Bennett similarly attacked Gantz and Ya’alon, saying at the time that the two endangered Israel by showing reluctance to launch the Protective Edge offensive.