Communications minister seeks to blame Gallant for AP equipment seizure fiasco

Shlomo Karhi, who faced ridicule over his rapid U-turn, claims defense minister got ‘cold feet’ and was unwilling to say news agency’s live feed of Gaza endangered soldiers

Communications Minister Shlomo Karai attends a protest of bereaved families of Israeli soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip calling for the continuation of the war, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Communications Minister Shlomo Karai attends a protest of bereaved families of Israeli soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip calling for the continuation of the war, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi sought on Thursday to blame Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for the debacle this week of the seizure and quick return of Associated Press filming equipment following an international outcry, accusing Gallant of getting “cold feet” under US pressure.

Karhi’s office confiscated equipment in Sderot on Tuesday that the international news agency has been using to provide a live feed of the Gaza Strip, which is used by Al Jazeera among thousands of other clients. The swift reversal of the move hours later drew considerable ridicule in Israel and accusations that Karhi had acted irresponsibly.

The communications minister shut down Al Jazeera’s Israel bureau earlier this month, after the Knesset passed a law allowing authorities to temporarily close foreign media outlets deemed to be harming national security, such as the staunchly anti-Israel Qatari broadcaster.

Speaking to Radio 103FM on Thursday, Karhi tapped into widespread right-wing disdain with Gallant, a fellow member of the ruling Likud party, claiming that “sometimes his leftism slips out.”

Following the seizure of the AP equipment — which reportedly hadn’t been coordinated with Gallant or with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu beforehand — Karhi said he took the matter to the Defense Ministry to validate the move.

“We went to the Defense Ministry and he said, ‘I need to look into it,’” Karhi said, presumably referring to Gallant.

In this image from video, Israeli officials seize AP video equipment from an apartment block in Sderot, southern Israel, May 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Josphat Kasire)

Karhi’s office decided to return the seized equipment, he said, “after we understood the Defense Ministry was not prepared to say [the AP feed] was dangerous.”

Karhi criticized that assessment, claiming he had “seen the security assessments on which the decision to close Al Jazeera was based. It’s dangerous.”

But he noted he does not have the standing to challenge the Defense Ministry on the matter, and he rejected the interviewer’s suggestion that the government had returned the equipment due to political pressure from abroad.

“You don’t know the prime minister well enough — if there were footage that endangered our troops, would he have said ‘return it’ because someone in the world isn’t satisfied?'” he asked rhetorically.

“If they decide it’s dangerous, I’ll confiscate it,” Karhi said.

However, in a statement carried by the Walla news site, the Defense Ministry said it had nothing to do with the decision to seize or return the AP equipment.

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