A retired high-ranking IDF official testified in court Sunday that a 2012 interview in his unsuccessful bid to become the Israel Defense Forces military secretary — a position that coordinates between the IDF and the prime minister — was conducted by Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara, rather than by the premier himself.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Guy Tzur was called to the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court as a witness in a defamation suit in which David Shimron, a confidant of Netanyahu, is suing former defense industry official and former Export Institute chairman David Artzi for defamation.
Artzi previously claimed that Shimron had drafted a 15-page “secret agreement” between Netanyahu and his wife in 1999, granting her certain decision-making powers in the defense establishment, as well as veto power over appointments and the right to be included in security deliberations.
Recounting the 2012 interview, which was supposed to be conducted by the prime minister, Tzur told the court: “The prime minister arrived, sat down and asked me one question. [Then Sara] sat down and spoke with me for five minutes. Later, the prime minister returned, apologized, and said that we had spoken enough, and he dismissed me from the meeting.”
He said that before the prime minister left the meeting room at his official residence in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, Sara had whispered something in her husband’s ear, prompting Netanyahu to immediately stand up and leave.
“Sara and I spoke,” continued Tzur. “She began by asking me personal questions: where I’m from, how old I am, and then she continued our conversation that included many questions about the [Gaza] disengagement, whether I think it should have been refused or not, or would I do it all again.”
In his role as chief of staff of the IDF Southern Command, Tzur was involved in the planning and implementation of the 2005 Gaza disengagement, which saw Israeli citizens and settlements uprooted from the Gaza Strip to the dismay of many Israelis.
Continuing his testimony, Tzur said the prime minister had barely taken part in the Friday afternoon meeting: “I felt like I had been interviewed by her, and because of that I wouldn’t get the job.”
Two days later, on Sunday morning, Tzur received the news that he would not be appointed military secretary. “I expressed my distaste for the behavior of the prime minister,” Tzur added.
Ayelet Shaked, who previously served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff and was the interior minister until last week, also testified in the Rishon Lezion courtroom on Sunday.
“Before I was appointed Netanyahu’s chief of staff, I had a meeting with him,” she said. “After that, I had a meeting with him and his wife at their house. I figure that he consulted with her on the matter.”
A lawyer for the defendant asked Shaked: “Are there any tensions between you and Sara Netanyahu?” to which Shaked responded: “From my point of view, no. Maybe she thinks there are… I always say [Benjamin and Sara] are partners in everything. She is the person he relies on the most. He consults her on political matters, I know that.”
For more than a decade, reports have circulated about Sara Netanyahu’s intense dislike for Shaked. The latter served in senior ministerial roles under Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as under the short-lived government that ousted him, but she failed to clear the electoral threshold in the November vote. Shaked has sought to reestablish political loyalty to Netanyahu, who resumed the premiership last week after previously holding the role in 1996-1999 and in 2009-2021.
Another witness in the civil trial, Moshe Ya’alon — another former Netanyahu partner-turned-bitter rival — testified that Sara had placed her husband under “pressure” to show that he was acting according to her will.
In one incident, Ya’alon, defense minister at the time, was deliberating with Netanyahu over who would replace former Mossad director Tamir Pardo.
“I thought it was right to appoint ‘Nun’ and not Yossi Cohen,” Ya’alon said, using the Hebrew first name initial for the other candidate, “and Netanyahu said he would announce it in a press conference. At some point, I realized there was a delay, and then it was published that Yossi Cohen had been appointed Mossad director. I connected the dots and understood there was probably an intervention.”
Speaking to “Nun” after the announcement, Ya’alon asked the failed candidate what had happened, to which “Nun” responded that he had received a phone call from Netanyahu, and that someone else had been listening on the same phone line.
Ya’alon has previously raised concerns over Sara Netanyahu’s involvement in state affairs, saying in a 2018 interview that she had veto power over who would serve as the prime minister’s military secretary.
“When we needed to decide on a military secretary we sent [the candidates] for an interview with the prime minister,” Ya’alon said at the time. “[Then-]chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot came to me very alarmed. He said, ‘This wasn’t an interview with the prime minister. It was an interview with his wife.’ That’s one of the things that startled me.”
The Prime Minister’s Office has denied that Sara Netanyahu had been involved in any interview process.
Odelia Carmon, who served as a foreign relations adviser to Netanyahu in 2006, told the court on Sunday that Sara had “total” involvement in the Prime Minister’s Office, saying: “Everything needed to be updated [to her], detailed and explained why this and why that.”