Galant retracts comment implying Syria strike political

After a wave of criticism, political newcomer claims he didn’t mean to impugn motives of alleged attack

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Yoav Gallant speaks to Channel 2, January 18, 2015. (screen capture)
Yoav Gallant speaks to Channel 2, January 18, 2015. (screen capture)

Yoav Galant, a former IDF general running for Knesset with the centrist Kulanu party, appeared to backpedal Monday after he implied that an alleged Israeli attack on Hezbollah personnel on Sunday was ordered out of political considerations and not just due to security concerns.

The strike, which the IDF has not officially acknowledged, hit two vehicles near Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights.

Among the dead were Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s slain commander of military operations; Mohammed Issa, a Hezbollah commander responsible for the organization’s operations in Syria and Iraq; and Abu Ali Tabatabai, a senior Hezbollah commander, according to reports.

On Sunday evening, hours after the attack, Galant appeared on Channel 2 and stated: “From incidents in the past you can learn that sometimes there is timing that is not unrelated to the topic of elections.”

He was referring to the November 2012 killing of Hamas military leader Ahmad Jabari, little more than two months before the January 2013 elections, after which a right-wing, hawkish government was formed.

Despite his statement’s double negative and qualifications, Galant was overwhelmed with denouncements and critiques from politicians along the political spectrum.

Asked on Monday morning about his comments of the previous day, Galant told Army Radio: “I didn’t say that and I don’t intent to say something like that. I just said that sometimes someone can bring that up in their mind. I don’t bring that up in my mind.”

Criticism of Galant’s first comments had been issued by politicians across the political spectrum.

Even the leaders of the left-wing Zionist Camp faction expressed confidence that orders to carry out Sunday’s strike in Syria were given by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for purely operational reasons, and were not an attempt to influence the upcoming elections.

“Israel’s security isn’t a matter of election tricks,” said Labor-Hatnua leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni in a statement Sunday evening.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett denounced Galant’s insinuation, calling it “unnecessary and disappointing.”

Likud Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis also blasted Galant for his comments, saying, “It’s better for new candidates without political experience to watch their words… [Kulanu leader] Moshe Kahlon would do well to calm Mr. Galant down.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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