Bennett says PM in denial over Gaza tunnel preparations
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Bennett says PM in denial over Gaza tunnel preparations

Education minister says leadership must ‘learn from mistakes of the past’; Likud official brands comments a ‘total lie’

Naftali Bennett on the Israel-Gaza border, on the second day of Operation Protective Edge, July 9, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Naftali Bennett on the Israel-Gaza border, on the second day of Operation Protective Edge, July 9, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday morning of refusing to learn from mistakes in the lead-up to the 2014 war with Gaza, a day after Netanyahu claimed to have been well-apprised of the threat of cross-border tunnels.

“Every platoon leader draws conclusions at the end of an exercise in order to prevent future mistakes and to improve,” Bennett, who heads the right-wing Jewish Home party, wrote on Twitter. “What is true for an infantry division is doubly true for the diplomatic-security leadership of the State of Israel.”

An unnamed Likud official later said Bennett’s accusations were a “total lie.”

“Bennett’s comments sound nice. It’s a shame it’s a total lie,” the Likud official said.

On Monday, Netanyahu told a group of military reporters that claims he had been caught unaware by attacks from Hamas into Israeli territory via an extensive tunnel system dug under a border fence were false.

“Operation Protective Edge was not the Second Lebanon War,” Netanyahu said. “The claim that we were not prepared and we didn’t know about the tunnels is the opposite of the truth.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Israeli soldiers as he tours the southern Israeli border with Gaza. May 03, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Israeli soldiers as he tours the southern Israeli border with Gaza. May 03, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

However, Bennett, who had loudly lobbied Netanyahu for a ground operation to destroy the tunnels during the early days of the nearly two-month war, countered that the prime minister was in denial.

“Before the next conflict we are obligated to learn from the mistakes of the past and not to deny them. Drawing real conclusions is a sign of strength and self-confidence,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “Anyone who refuses to learn from the mistakes of the past is condemned to repeat them in the future.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Tuesday urged the government to make public a state comptroller report on the 50-day conflict.

“There were serious failures in reporting to the security cabinet and in the decision-making process. I call upon the state comptroller to publish the report as soon as possible; the families deserve to know and the Israeli public deserves to know,” said Lapid.

“The prime minister claimed yesterday there were no failures and no mistakes. I join the call by Education Minister Bennett who said to the prime minister that by denying mistakes and trying to hide faults we can’t learn the lessons of the operation,” he added.

Netanyahu’s statement came in the wake of a demand from 32 bereaved families to set up an official inquiry into operational and planning failures before and during Operation Protective Edge, as Israel labeled the conflict.

The families sent their demands in letters to both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

During the war, initially launched to stanch rocket fire from the Strip, Israeli troops destroyed some 50 tunnels in the Strip, a number of them reaching into Israel for the purpose of attacking troops and civilians, according to the IDF.

Several soldiers were killed in a number of attacks by Hamas fighters emerging from tunnels inside Israeli territory.

A tunnel discovered by soldiers from the Nahal Brigade in the Gaza Strip on July 19, 2014 Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
A tunnel discovered by soldiers from the Nahal Brigade in the Gaza Strip on July 19, 2014 Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

During the war, a number of military and political officials said that while they knew about the existence of tunnels, they were caught off guard by how extensive they were.

“Of course we didn’t know all the details and how complex was the network below the ground. I don’t think we had the full picture,” former national security adviser Giora Eiland told Foreign Policy at the time.

The prime minister has been repeatedly criticized by Bennett for purportedly failing to prepare Israeli forces effectively to tackle the tunnels, a number of which were discovered in the months before the war.

Netanyahu insisted that the security cabinet discussed the tunnels as far back as January 2013, and has repeatedly since, amid indications that Hamas has begun rehabilitating its tunnel infrastructure.

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