Knesset panel pushes off release of 2014 Gaza war report
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Knesset panel pushes off release of 2014 Gaza war report

Subcommittee cites security considerations for delay; findings said to censure Netanyahu and Ya’alon, defense minister at the time

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a meeting of his Likud faction in the Knesset, January 23, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a meeting of his Likud faction in the Knesset, January 23, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Knesset state control subcommittee said Tuesday it had pushed off a decision on releasing to the public parts of a biting comptroller’s report into how the security cabinet of top-level ministers handled itself during the war in Gaza in 2014.

Committee chair MK Karin Elharar of the Yesh Atid party said the delay was unanimously agreed on due to security considerations that came up as the panel reviewed the materials intended for publication. The committee will make a final decision on releasing the report at its next meeting on Sunday.

“The committee is in favor of publishing the report as a matter of principle,” Elharar said. “However, a few things came up concerning state security that the committee needs to consider.”

If eventually released, the document would give Israelis a rare open look at the discussions of one of the most powerful and secretive state institutions.

The report by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira is said to show bitter infighting among members of the security cabinet, especially then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and then-economy minister Naftali Bennett over the conduct of the war in Gaza, dubbed Operation Protective Edge.

Coalition officials, particularly those close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have tried to prevent the subcommittee, which reviews classified materials, from voting on releasing materials from that section of the report.

On Monday, seemingly bowing to the mounting pressure, sources close to Netanyahu said the premier was not opposed to publicizing the non-classified portions of the report.

Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan (Likud), a confidant of Netanyahu and a member of the subcommittee, also came out in support of publicizing the report.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on October 6, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on October 6, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The subcommittee on Tuesday was to have voted to clear an edited version of the report for publication, sending it to the Defense Ministry to excise any parts that breach information security rules, then publishing the redacted version some time in the coming weeks.

According to sources familiar with the report’s contents, a revised draft is said to intensify criticism of Netanyahu and Ya’alon while toning down disapproval of the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces.

The report found that despite Netanyahu’s claims to the contrary, he and Ya’alon did not properly inform the security cabinet of the extent of the threat emanating from Hamas’s cross-border tunnels, Channel 2 reported in November, citing leaks from the report’s contents.

Chaired by the prime minister, the security cabinet, formally titled the Ministerial Committee for National Security, is currently composed of 10 ministers, including the heads of most coalition parties, and is empowered by law to oversee the conduct of both war and peace negotiations.

Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett chairs a Knesset faction meeting on january 23, 2017. Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett chairs a Knesset faction meeting on january 23, 2017. Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Some members of the security cabinet during Protective Edge have long complained that Netanyahu would not allow serious consultations and decisions in the forum. Part of the criticism, especially by Bennett, was already voiced during the war itself, during which he took to visiting frontline army units and discussing the war’s progress with officers in the field.

Bennett, who has since moved on to the position of education minister, maintains that he became aware of the urgency of dealing with cross-border tunnels, an issue that became the war’s main goal in its final weeks, outside the confines of cabinet discussions, including during his conversations with IDF officers, and that the threat posed by the tunnels was not properly discussed or understood in the security cabinet’s meetings.

Yesh Atid party chairman MK Yair Lapid speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, November 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid party chairman MK Yair Lapid speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, November 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu and Ya’alon have denied Bennett’s claims, and criticized as “populist” his public excoriation of the army’s strategies while fighting was still underway in Gaza.

Both Bennett and then-finance minister Yair Lapid, another critic of Netanyahu’s handling of the cabinet committee, called Monday for the Knesset to make the comptroller’s findings public.

“We must not suppress the report on Protective Edge or use it to see heads roll,” but rather learn from it, Bennett said at the weekly Jewish Home faction meeting.

“Only the disclosure of the non-confidential elements and the study of its particulars will allow us to move forward,” he said. “I was there; we can do better.”

Lapid, who leads the opposition Yesh Atid party, said the government must make the report public for the sake of the bereaved Israeli families of soldiers killed in the 50-day conflict.

Infantry soldiers operating on the ground during Operation Protective Edge, July 20, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flickr)
Infantry soldiers operating on the ground during Operation Protective Edge, July 20, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit/Flickr)

“They need to release the report for the families of the fallen; they deserve to know what happened there. There’s no room for politics when you are talking about the security of soldiers and well-being of residents of Gaza-area communities,” he said.

Lapid accused Netanyahu of attempting to bury the report for political reasons.

“The Prime Minister’s Office fears this report, because serious failures emerge from it,” he said. “Because the report reveals that the account the public received [on the war] was not the true account.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog joined the chorus. “The Israeli public, and especially families who lost loved ones, deserve to know how their leaders acted when they sent their sons into battle, and how discussions on new strategic threats, chief among them the tunnels, were carried out,” he said at the start of the weekly meeting of his Zionist Union faction Monday.

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