Education Minister Naftali Bennett slammed Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz and his potential political ally Moshe Ya’alon over what he called a dangerously passive approach to the 2014 Gaza war, as campaign jockeying continued to heat up Tuesday.
Hours before Gantz’s maiden political speech, due to take place at 8 p.m., Ya’alon said talks to merge his Telem party with the Israel Resilience party were moving ahead.
Asked by the Ynet news site when the merger would be finalized, Ya’alon answered: “Patience. It isn’t very far away, we’ll wait and see.”
Bennett, who heads the newly formed New Right party which is seeking to attract potential Gantz supporters, assailed the two generals over their handling of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, when Gantz was the military’s chief of staff and Ya’alon was defense minister.
Bennett charged that the two endangered Israel by showing reluctance to launch the offensive. During the war, dozens of tunnels dug by the Hamas terror group were destroyed, including several cross-border passages intended for attacks inside Israel, according to the IDF.
“Had we [security cabinet members] listened to Gantz and Ya’alon in 2014, we would’ve woken up to a terrible disaster in the Western Negev region with dozens of people kidnapped into Gaza, hundreds of Israelis murdered in a terror attack like we’ve never seen,” Bennett told Army Radio, repeating accusations he has been voicing for the past week.
The duo only intended to “delay” the tunnel threat rather than destroy them, Bennett charged. “They did everything to refrain from action, for a thousand different reasons.”
“There’s a fundamental and deep disagreement between [Gantz] and myself,” Bennett continued. “His approach has always been to play for a tie, not for a win, as was expressed during Protective Edge and on other occasions. The operation could’ve been far shorter, five days instead of 50 days, had we taken the offensive approach.”
But another right-wing contender in the upcoming elections, former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, defended Gantz’s and Ya’alon’s policy during the 2014 war, saying that if anyone was to blame, it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling Likud party.
“Netanyahu led all the steps, the responsibility lies first and foremost with him,” the Yisrael Beytenu party chief told Ynet, contradicting Bennett with whom he has sparred repeatedly in the last few years. “In Israel, the military brass is subordinate to the government, not the other way around.”
“Those that surrender and hand out suitcases filled with cash to Hamas would be better off keeping quiet,” the Israel Resilience party said in a statement, echoing criticism by Liberman accusing Bennett, who serves on the security cabinet, of approving the payments.
According to Hadashot, Bennett issued a response to the statement from Gantz’s team, saying: “A tie-seeking general who favors the lives of the enemy over the lives of Golani soldiers should keep tweeting, because he won’t know victory.”
The comment referred to a 2015 speech by Gantz, in which the former IDF chief said he took a risk during the 2014 war in order to protect Palestinian civilians during a specific operation.
Gantz announced at the end of December that his new Israel Resilience party would field a list of candidates in the upcoming elections.
Last week Gantz released a series of campaign videos titled “Only the strong survive,” mostly highlighting successful IDF operations in the Gaza Strip during his time as chief of staff.
Despite the militaristic nature of the videos, Gantz also released a fourth campaign saying Israel needed to seriously pursue peace with the Palestinians.
On Monday, he unveiled a campaign jingle under the slogan “There’s no right or left anymore, only Israel, above all else.”
A recent survey on Israelis’ preferred candidate for prime minister gave Netanyahu 41 percent to Gantz’s 38 percent in a one-on-one scenario, marking the first time in years that any potential rival has come close to Netanyahu’s figures.
Gantz will break his months of near-silence on Tuesday at the campaign launch of his party, where he is expected to outline his still-unknown positions ahead of the April 9 vote.
Bennett, the former head of the religious Jewish Home party, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked split off and formed their New Right party last month, as a combined secular and religious political group.
Raoul Wootliff and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.