Gantz assails Netanyahu over reports he sought to go to war before elections

Gantz assails Netanyahu over reports he sought to go to war before elections

Generals-turned-politicians accuse PM of exploiting security issues for political gain after newspaper says he planned, and later abandoned, Gaza operation last week

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. (Oded Balilty and Jack Guez/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. (Oded Balilty and Jack Guez/AFP)

Former high-ranking generals-turned-politicians on Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of seeking to exploit security issues for political gain, after a report suggested that the premier had planned to launch a military operation last week in the Gaza Strip that could have delayed Tuesday’s elections.

According to a report Monday in the Haaretz daily, Netanyahu sought an aggressive response to a rocket fired from Gaza that forced him off the stage at a campaign event in Ashdod last week. As Netanyahu huddled with top defense officials to discuss a military response to last Tuesday’s rocket fire, his national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, told the head of the Central Elections Committee that Israel was readying to launch a major military operation and to prepare for a possible delay of the September 17 vote, the newspaper reported.

But the purported military action was ultimately aborted when Netanyahu was informed by the attorney general he would have to consult the security cabinet before launching a military operation that could start a war, the report said.

“Netanyahu did away with ambiguity for political ends,” Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz charged in a tweet, alluding to recent comments by the prime minister boasting of Israeli military action in Syria. “Now he’s lost it and wants to drag us into war to postpone the elections.

“[This is a] scenario that belongs [in the TV show] ‘House of Cards,’ not in the State of Israel,” added Gantz, a former military chief.

Brushing aside Gantz’s criticism, Netanyahu accused his rival of “playing politics” with Israel’s security.

“Benny Gantz, you’re not ashamed to play politics with security issues?” the premier said in a video response, before castigating Gantz for once admitting — during his tenure as IDF chief of staff — to having endangered Israeli soldiers to protect Palestinian civilians.

“We prepared for every scenario, including that Islamic Jihad and Hamas would disrupt the elections with rocket fire on our cities and we prepared a tough response,” Netanyahu said.

“I’ll choose the date to enter into the [military] campaign we prepared.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd R) meets, following a rocket attack from Gaza, with his defense chiefs at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on September 10, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Democratic Camp member Yair Golan, a former IDF deputy chief of staff, said Netanyahu was making “cynical use” of security matters for his “campaign of personal survival,” referring to the premier’s efforts to avoid prosecution in a series of corruption cases.

“Were there pure security considerations here, personal offense, or a desire to improve [his] positions before the elections?” Golan wrote on Twitter.

Former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak, who is also running on the Democratic Camp list, said the report showed Netanyahu has “gone off the rails.”

“A prime minister who the attorney general needs to block from a wide-scale military action that can lead to war and which wasn’t discussed in the [security] cabinet — and all this because the Shin Bet extricated him from the stage in Ashdod — isn’t worthy of serving [as premier] for a single day,” Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history, tweeted.

Democratic Camp members Ehud Barak and Yair Golan (R) visit the West Bank settlement of Ariel on July 16, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

In the days since the Ashdod attack, Netanyahu has warned that war with terror groups in the Gaza Strip could break out “at any moment,” including before Tuesday’s election.

The rocket launched at the southern city on Tuesday caught Netanyahu in the middle of a campaign rally. He was whisked off the stage by his bodyguards to take shelter and later returned. Another projectile was fired at the southern city of Ashkelon. Both rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.

Hours after the attack, likely carried out by the Islamic Jihad terror group, Netanyahu convened the heads of the security establishment, including IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi, Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman, and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, being moved away from a campaign event stage while surrounded by security as rockets are shot at Ashdod on September 10, 2019. (screen capture: Twitter)

Netanyahu, who is also the defense minister, sought an “extraordinary” and “far-reaching” military reaction to the rocket — the nature of which was not disclosed — but several security officials were hesitant to take such action, according to Haaretz.

For many of his rivals, the scenes of Netanyahu being forced to take shelter from rockets provided a counterpoint to the image he has attempted to cultivate as “Mr. Security,” highlighting what they say is his government’s failure to deal with ongoing attacks from Gaza terror groups.

Blue and White touted the fact the the party’s no. 4, MK Gabi Ashkenazi, refused to leave the stage at a campaign event in Ashkelon as the alarm sounded, while Netanyahu was rushed to shelter. Likud retorted that Netanyahu’s actions comported with Home Front orders, while Ashkenazi potentially put himself and those around him in danger.

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