Bennett, Netanyahu trade barbs over Gaza rocket fire

‘You failed against Hamas,’ PM charges after opposition chief calls his coalition ‘weak’ following first launch of projectile from Strip in months

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. (Menahem Kahana/AFP; Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. (Menahem Kahana/AFP; Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday traded barbs with Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu over their respective policies toward the Gaza Strip, after terrorists in the coastal enclave fired a rocket at Israel late Monday for the first time in months.

“Mr. Netanyahu, on your watch, terrorists launched 13,000 (!) rockets toward the residents of southern Israel, carried out 1,500 terrorist attacks, burned down 45,000 dunams [11,120 acres] of our lands, killed 238 Israelis and injured 1,700 others,” Bennett said in a statement.

“And what do you do? You transfer suitcases full of dollars to Hamas,” he added, referring to the hundreds of millions in monthly payments that Qatar has sent to Gaza since 2018.

He also tore into Netanyahu over last year’s fighting in Gaza, which began after Hamas fired several rockets toward Jerusalem, and corresponding ethnic violence in Israeli cities with mixed Jewish and Arab populations.

“Your legacy: Hamas rockets targeting Jerusalem, lynches in Acre and Lod. Israel in flames. You failed against Hamas. We’re fixing the situation,” Bennett charged.

The comments came in response to a social media post by Netanyahu on Monday, shortly after the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted a rocket launched from Gaza. The military later carried out retaliatory strikes on sites linked to Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

“We must immediately establish a strong, right-wing government that will restore peace and security for Israel’s citizens,” the former premier said.

The rocket attack, which reports said was believed to have been carried out by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, was the first in nearly four months, ending one of the longest periods of quiet on the Gaza border in years.

Responding to Bennett’s statement, Netanyahu’s Likud party argued that the prime minister was claiming credit for the ex-premier’s labors.

“Bennett, the quiet you’ve had in southern Israel is the result of Operation Guardian of the Walls that was led by prime minister Netanyahu, and you’ve managed to ruin that as well,” Likud tweeted, using the formal name of last year’s conflict in Gaza.

“When you tweet about ‘Netanyahu’s watch’ you seem to forget that during that time you were defense minister and a member of the cabinet. The time of your weak government is over, start packing,” the opposition party added.

In this Sunday, November 24, 2019 file photo, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, visit an Israeli army base in the Golan Heights, on the Israeli-Syrian border. (Atef Safadi/Pool via AP)

Despite Netanyahu’s criticism, Likud MK Yoav Gallant defended the government’s “minor response” to the rocket launch as the right decision.

“We should consider the possibility that this was an exception,” Gallant, a former head of IDF Southern Command, told 103FM Radio. “A minimal response is the right decision at this point.”

Education Minister Yoav Gallant at a passing the baton ceremony in Jerusalem, on May 18, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Bennett and Netanyahu’s back-and-forth came as the coalition attempts to prevent the government’s collapse after losing its parliamentary majority, while Likud continues to search out potential defectors in hopes of returning to power.

Addressing a right-wing rally in Jerusalem earlier this month, Netanyahu urged right-wing lawmakers in the current coalition to “put aside old grudges and return to the national camp,” referring to the political bloc he leads.

On Monday, far-right Religious Zionism leader Betzalel Smotrich sent a request to Knesset speaker Mickey Levy to hold a special plenum session next week to vote on dissolving parliament and holding new elections.

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