IDF chief said angered by FM’s apparent leak from cabinet meeting

IDF chief said angered by FM’s apparent leak from cabinet meeting

TV report says Aviv Kohavi sent letter of protest to Netanyahu after Israel Katz tweeted it was the military head who approved acknowledging Syria strike

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks during an event honoring outstanding IDF reservists, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on July 1, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks during an event honoring outstanding IDF reservists, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on July 1, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi was reportedly left seething after Foreign Minister Israel Katz appeared to leak information from a national security meeting and claimed the military chief was behind the acknowledgement of Israel’s involvement in an airstrike in Syria.

Katz tweeted last week that Kohavi was the one who decided to admit Israel carried out a late-August strike on Iranian cell that was preparing to launch a cross-border drone attack from Syria.

According to a Channel 13 report Tuesday, Kohavi was infuriated by Katz’s tweet and sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protesting the leaking of Security Cabinet discussions and saying his comments were distorted and used for political ends.

The IDF chief also reportedly asked Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, to be allowed to address the issue directly with ministers at the next Security Cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Transportation Minister Israel Katz attend the inauguration ceremony for a new train station in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi, September 17, 2018. (Flash90)

Hours later, Katz called Kohavi to straighten things out and apologize, the report said, quoting sources familiar with the phone call who claimed the foreign minister emphasized he did not intend to hurt or embarrass the IDF chief.

Netanyahu also was said to have spoken to Kohavi after receiving the letter.

Katz, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, denied apologizing to Kohavi, while the IDF spokesman and the Prime Minister’s Office would neither confirm nor deny the report.

“The two have excellent working relations over the years and they intend to continue to do so in the future,” Katz’s office told Channel 13.

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 election campaigns ahead of national ballots in April and September.

Katz’s tweet was directed at MK Yair Lapid of the rival Blue and White party, who in August had accused 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 the security cabinet meeting, which Kohavi 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.”

This satellite photo provided by private intelligence firm ImageSat International on August 25, 2019, shows the aftermath of an Israeli strike on a compound in the Syrian town of Aqrabah from which the Israeli military says Iran tried to launch explosive-laden drones into northern Israel. (ImageSat International)

Earlier this month, 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.”

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