Israel's 'future, identity and security severely threatened'

IDF chief comes under fire for meeting with Ehud Barak

Army says two only discussed security matters in parley day before former prime minister warned Netanyahu’s policies could cause soldiers to disobey orders

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot (R) with then Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in June 2010 (Ministry of Defense/Flash 90)
Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot (R) with then Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in June 2010 (Ministry of Defense/Flash 90)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot faced criticism Tuesday from both right- and left-wing commentators over a meeting he held last week with former prime minister Ehud Barak, a vehement critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last Wednesday, Eisenkot met with Barak in the latter’s Tel Aviv apartment, located less than a kilometer from the chief of staff’s office in the Defense Ministry’s headquarters, Hadashot TV news reported Monday.

The report noted that the meeting took place a day before Barak warned publicly that Netanyahu’s current policies, which he said are aimed at destroying the  possibility of a two-state solution, could cause mass insubordination in the army.

“The most right-wing government in history will cause civil opposition and disobeying of orders by senior IDF officers,” Barak said at the annual Banana Festival in the Jordan Valley.

Former prime minister and defense minster Ehud Barak speaks during an event to launch the Reporty App in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2016. (Flash90)

The army rejected any attempt to link the meeting to Barak’s speech, along with the implication that there was anything untoward about the chief of staff meeting with Barak, who was a chief of staff and also served a six-year stint as defense minister.

“The meeting was one of many routine meetings that the chief of staff has held since he entered the post with former chiefs of staff and senior reserve officers on a range of topics relating to the army and security,” the IDF spokesperson said in response to the report.

Barak said that the meeting had dealt “only with security issues,” and that it had “no connection whatsoever” to his speech at the Banana Festival, tweeting a video of an address from 2016 in which he included similar warnings of insubordination.

Still, commentators from across the political spectrum have accused Eisenkot of wading into a partisan quagmire by meeting with Barak, who some believe is mulling a reentry into politics.

Channel 20, a right-leaning broadcast channel sometimes described as “Israel’s Fox News,” ran a segment on its late-night panel show Monday including calls for Eisenkot’s resignation.

“There is no reason whatsoever that he went up to his apartment,” political analyst Itamar Fleishman said, suggesting Eisenkot was colluding with Barak to bring down the prime minister. “I can’t understand how Eisenkot is still chief of staff after this meeting.”

In a Haaretz op-ed, Amos Harel said that the details of the meeting “leave one with an uneasy feeling.”

While questioning those who have sought to tie the meeting to Barak’s comments the next day, Harel wrote that “it would have been better if someone close to him had turned on a red light beforehand,” calling the meeting a “political mistake.”

Politicians have largely held back from remarking on the meeting, with both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Likud party spokesperson declining Times of Israel requests for comment.

Jewish Home party chair Education Minister Naftali Bennett, however, tweeted that the “security cabinet has full faith in Chief of Staff Eisenkot,” adding that meetings with security experts are “important and welcome.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, center, meets with the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, right, and Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, reversed, during a visit to southern Israel on December 20, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

Over the past year, Barak has become a viciously outspoken critic of Netanyahu, with diatribes against the prime minister and his governing coalition on Twitter, radio and television.

Earlier this month he unleashed an unprecedentedly harsh condemnation of Netanyahu’s policies in a fiery New York Times op-ed, arguing that the current government was endangering the entire Zionist project as it inches closer to an annexation of the West Bank, “precluding any permanent separation from the Palestinians.”

Barak also accused the Netanyahu-led government of showing a general disrespect for the rule of law, and claimed that it had “declared war” on the courts, the media, civil society and the ethical code of the IDF.

“For all of Israel’s great achievements in its seven decades of statehood, our country now finds its very future, identity and security severely threatened by the whims and illusions of the ultra-nationalist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” Barak wrote in the piece.

Barak was the IDF’s longest-serving chief of staff and the country’s most decorated soldier before becoming prime minister in 1999 after defeating Netanyahu in elections.

After losing in 2001 to Ariel Sharon, Barak temporarily retired from politics, but returned to the Labor party in 2005. From 2007 to 2013 he served as defense minister, the last four years under Netanyahu.

In 2011, he split from Labor along with four other MKs, forming the short-lived Independence Party, in order to remain in Netanyahu’s coalition, despite the objection of most of Labor. The party was effectively disbanded upon Barak’s retirement from politics in 2013.

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