FM Katz draws criticism after apparent leak from national security meeting
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FM Katz draws criticism after apparent leak from national security meeting

In bid to defend Netanyahu, minister says it was IDF chief, not PM, who decided to reduce Israeli ambiguity on military operations in neighboring countries

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) listens to then-transportation minister Yisrael Katz during a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on May 19, 2019. (Ariel Schalit / various sources / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) listens to then-transportation minister Yisrael Katz during a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on May 19, 2019. (Ariel Schalit / various sources / AFP)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Monday appeared to leak information from a national security meeting the day before, drawing implied criticism from the Israel Defense Forces and political rivals.

Katz tweeted that IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi had revealed on Sunday that he was the one who decided to admit Israel’s involvement in a late-August strike on Iranian cell that was preparing to launch a cross-border drone attack from Syria.

He directed the tweet at Blue and White no. 2 Yair Lapid, who at the time accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of publicly taking credit for the strike to score political points ahead of the elections.

“Yesterday, the chief of staff said he was the one who decided that Israel should take responsibility for it out of professional considerations,” Katz tweeted, apparently in reference to Sunday’s security cabinet meeting, which Kochavi attended.

Lapid hit back at Katz, saying the shift away from the policy of ambiguity happened long before the August strike, and accused him of leaking possibly confidential information from the high-level cabinet meeting.

The military responded to Katz’s tweet with veiled criticism, telling reporters only that the IDF always “keeps the contents of all cabinet discussions confidential.”

Blue and White party leaders Benny Gantz, right, and Yair Lapid at a faction meeting at the opening of the 22nd Knesset in Jerusalem, on October 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel has long maintained a policy of ambiguity regarding strikes in Syria and elsewhere, in order to reduce the chances of reprisal attacks. But in recent months, Israeli leaders have been unusually forthcoming about some aspects of the country’s military activity in the region, including taking responsibility for the August airstrikes in Syria on the Iranian cell.

Critics have accused Netanyahu — who has repeatedly warned Iran to rein in its military forces in the region — of boasting about the strikes to improve his image during the election campaign.

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff and Netanyahu’s main political rival, has blasted the shift in policy as “harmful and unnecessary.”

Last week, another former IDF chief, Gadi Eisenkot, said in an interview that the shift away from ambiguity was a “serious error that jeopardizes national security.”

Before he retired as IDF chief in mid-January, Eisenkot acknowledged in a series of interviews that Israel had carried out hundreds of airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria since his appointment in 2015. He also admitted that Israel supplied Syrian rebel groups along the border with light weapons for “self defense.”

IDF footage of what the army says are Iranian operatives attempting to launch an explosives-laden drone into northern Israel from a Syrian border town on August 22, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Eisenkot’s acknowledgments were part of a wider movement within the Israeli political and military establishment to be more open about the IDF’s efforts against Iranian military entrenchment in Syria.

Katz’s defense of Netanyahu came amid reports that the Likud party was mulling holding a snap primary, in a bid to buck Gantz’s demand that scandal-plagued Netanyahu be removed as party leader as a condition for Blue and White joining a unity government.

Katz, currently No. 3 in Likud, has expressed interest in heading the party after Netanyahu steps down, but has offered full-throated support for Netanyahu until that day.

Fellow cabinet member Miri Regev has also said she would support Netanyahu in a snap primary, while Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar has indicated he would challenge the prime minister for the party leadership.

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