Israelis may get a rare open look at the discussions of one of the most powerful and secretive state institutions, with the Knesset expected to clear for publication a biting comptroller’s report into how the security cabinet of top-level ministers handled itself during the war in Gaza in 2014.
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, especially those close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tried to prevent a vote in the Knesset State Control Committee’s subcommittee on classified materials to permit the publication of that section of the report.
But 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, which is expected to provide a glimpse into some of the inner working of the security cabinet, charged with overseeing war-time decisions.
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.
The subcommittee is expected to decide on Tuesday to clear an edited version of the report for publication, sending it to the Defense Ministry to excise any parts that may breach information security rules, then publishing the redacted version sometime in the coming weeks.
According to sources familiar with the report’s contents, a revised draft of it is said to intensify its criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ya’alon while toning down its 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.
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, when 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.
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.
“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.
MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union), who chairs the subcommittee, said, “The Israeli public has the right, under law, to receive the comptroller’s report on Protective Edge, an operation carried out by the IDF that saw fallen and wounded soldiers, and which most of the Israeli public experienced” in one way or another.
“The Israeli government should be concerned with how to correct the faults found in the report, not how to hide them,” he chided.
Ben-Reuven suggested the report’s publication was inevitable. The discussion ahead of Tuesday’s vote would not even ask whether the report should be made public, he said, but would “only deal with the question of a small number of elements that should remain classified.”