Defense minister, 3 colleagues oppose Gaza ceasefire said pushed by Netanyahu
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Minister Yoav Gallant says no ministers opposed the decision

Defense minister, 3 colleagues oppose Gaza ceasefire said pushed by Netanyahu

Liberman and Bennett claim they did not back end to Gaza strikes, as Yesh Atid and Zionist Union parties accuse government of being led by Hamas, lacking any long-term strategy

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin (c), Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, (r) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkott, attending a security cabinet meeting at the Kirya, the IDF Headquarters, in Tel Aviv, on February 10, 2018. (Ariel Hermony/Ministry of Defense)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin (c), Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, (r) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkott, attending a security cabinet meeting at the Kirya, the IDF Headquarters, in Tel Aviv, on February 10, 2018. (Ariel Hermony/Ministry of Defense)

Israel’s security cabinet agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas on Tuesday afternoon, in a decision that several government ministers later said they opposed. The decision was slammed by some opposition leaders, who called it a capitulation to terror after a two-day conflagration that saw over 400 hundred rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel.

Channel 10 news reported that at least four senior ministers who attended the cabinet meeting opposed the decision, which was reportedly taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without a vote.

But Housing Minister Yoav Gallant, who was at the meeting, said the ministers all accepted the decision, which was summarized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was not put to a vote.

The ceasefire was greeted by Hamas, the terror group which rules Gaza, as a victory — ostensibly imposed on Israel on its terms. Rocket fire at Israel came to a halt on Tuesday afternoon, after two days of attacks.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett proposed an alternative response, but it was rejected by the other ministers, according to the Channel 10 report.

An unnamed minister who attended the seven-hour meeting Tuesday told Channel 10 that no vote was held to determine the next steps. A source with direct knowledge of the discussions confirmed to the Times of Israel that no vote took place.

The source said there were several disagreements between cabinet members, some of which were the focus of debate for “a number of hours.” The source would not, however, comment on the content of the disagreements.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in the northern West Bank settlement of Ariel on October 30, 2018. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

At the conclusion of the meeting, the security cabinet merely released a statement that read: “The security cabinet discussed the events in the south. The cabinet received briefings from the IDF and defense officials on the [IDF] strikes and widespread operations against terror targets in Gaza. The cabinet instructed the IDF to continue its strikes as needed.”

Hamas and other Gaza terror groups said earlier Tuesday afternoon that they had accepted an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire with Israel. Terms of the deal were not immediately known, and there was no immediate comment from Israel. But a senior Israeli diplomatic official appeared to confirm the reported armistice.

“Israel maintains its right to act. Requests from Hamas for a ceasefire came through four different mediators. Israel responded that the events on the ground will decide [if a ceasefire will go into effect],” the official said, on condition of anonymity.

Israel’s Hadashot TV news said Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi urged Israel behind the scenes to accept the ceasefire.

According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of 25 hours on Monday and Tuesday. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens more, and causing significant property damage.

People gather outside a house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, on November 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In response to the rocket and mortar attacks, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”

As news of a ceasefire broke, Liberman’s office put out a statement saying that any claim he had backed ending Israel’s offensive was “fake news. The defense minister’s position is consistent and has not changed.”

Similarly, Bennett’s office said any reports that he had supported a halt to strikes were “an absolute lie” and that the minister had “presented his resolute position to the cabinet that he has expressed in recent months and his plan for Gaza.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett at farewell ceremony for Issac Herzog at the Knesset, Jerusalem, July 18, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some in the opposition welcomed the apparent decision to move away from the brink, including Zionist Union MK Michal Biran and Meretz MK Mossi Raz who posted supportive messages on social media.

But most responses were withering.

“Hamas started the current round of fighting when it wanted, managed it as it wanted and now apparently ended it when it wanted,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said. Netanyahu “gathered the cabinet for seven hours and eventually decided to forsake the residents of the south and forsake Israeli deterrence.”

Yesh Atid’s Ofer Shelah said Netanyahu was “a coward in war and a coward in diplomacy” and Israelis were “paying the price.”

MK Ksenia Svetlova of the Zionist Union said “Liberman and Netanyahu have led us to a dead-end in which they dance to Hamas’s tune and all the residents of the south pay a heavy price. They have no policy and no strategy.”

Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid speaks to reporters outside the IDF’s main recruitment base, the Bakum, in Tel Hashomer on August 13, 2018. (Courtesy)

Her colleague MK Stav Shaffir the security cabinet “does not make any strategic decisions, and is preoccupied with tactical decisions which will not bring about real improvement in the long run.”

Both called for a larger “diplomatic solution” that Shaffir said would “strengthen moderate voices in the Palestinian Authority and weaken Hamas.”

She added: “When he was in the opposition [Netanyahu] had a lot to say about security. For once in a decade of rule let him manage to bring a serious solution.”

Party member Itzik Shmuli was more hawkish, calling for “landing a terrible blow on Hamas…We are not trigger happy but this [deal] is an accord of weakness that erases Israeli deterrence.”

Some southern residents were also unhappy.

“It’s better that we suffer in shelters and they put an end to it once and for all,” Reut Bassis of Sderot told Hadashot news. “A month from today the same thing will happen…it doesn’t make sense that our lives are like this.”

Another Sderot resident, Miri, said: “The IDF is hitting empty buildings, while sending them trucks with cement and construction materials. Where’s our self-respect? We’ve been at war for 17 years.”

Israeli security forces and firefighters gather near a building set ablaze after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in the southern town of Sderot on November 12, 2018. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Another man, Yohanan Cohen, said he had lost faith in the prime minister. “I’ve been a Likud man for 40 years but I promise I won’t vote Likud anymore. We’re captives of Hamas.”

On Tuesday, Egyptian intelligence officials, United Nations Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov and other third-party mediators scrambled to broker a ceasefire between the two sides.

According to the IDF, the barrage of more than 460 rockets and mortars lobbed at southern Israel began shortly after 4:30 p.m. Monday when Palestinian terrorists fired a Kornet anti-tank guided missile at a bus near the border, severely injuring an Israeli soldier on board.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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