Opposition Leader Yair Lapid assailed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet on Wednesday, saying the premier has failed to rein in ministers advancing rogue policies, including some that may threaten national security.
“The prime minister has lost control of his ministers. Each of them pursues their own dangerous policy,” Lapid said, in remarks delivered at the outset of a meeting of his Yesh Atid party’s parliamentary faction.
Citing reports from the defense establishment, he warned that “we are approaching a violent, multi-front confrontation,” and charged, “What is even more dangerous is that the government is not coordinated with the security establishment.”
The opposition leader specifically called out far-right coalition party heads National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for exacerbating the situation.
Ben Gvir has been consistently pushing to worsen prison conditions for inmates incarcerated on terror convictions, despite warnings from prison officials and the defense establishment that such measures could inflame the already fraught West Bank. Smotrich, like Ben Gvir, is a former settlement activist and has taken a lax stance toward Jewish extremist violence in the West Bank, including a deadly riot in the Palestinian village of Huwara.
Smotrich holds an additional post as an independent minister in the Defense Ministry, overseeing West Bank construction policy.
“All the heads of the security establishment – the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet, the police, the intelligence agencies – have been warning the government and the cabinet of a violent conflagration, but Ben Gvir and Smotrich repeatedly ignore the security officials’ recommendation to act cautiously and responsibly,” Lapid added, speaking in Tel Aviv.
Israel has been battling persistent Palestinian terror attacks, committed with small arms, knives, or by car ramming, that have claimed the lives of 27 civilians and three soldiers since the start of 2023.
According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 186 West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians have been killed during the same period — the majority during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances, including by armed Israeli settlers.
On Thursday, the Israel Police called on citizens to arm themselves while attending last weekend’s Rosh Hashanah services and those of the upcoming Yom Kippur, in light of increased terror threats during the High Holiday period.
“Calling on Israeli citizens to come with weapons to synagogue on Yom Kippur is not a security policy, it is dangerous populism. Letting the hilltop criminals run amok without any restraint is not a security policy,” Lapid said Wednesday, referring to extremist West Bank settler youth.
“Security policy cannot be conducted with political slogans and competition for headlines. If Netanyahu does not restrain Smotrich and Ben Gvir, we will pay with human lives,” he added.
Netanyahu is currently in New York for the United Nation’s General Assembly, where he is set to have a meeting with US President Joe Biden on Wednesday evening, the two leaders’ first in-person summit since Netanyahu returned to the premiership in December.
The prime minister also held meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday, as well as other world leaders. Before arriving in New York, Netanyahu flew to San Jose, California, where he met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
“Instead of fleeing from his troubles to California, the prime minister should put his foot down, restrain his irresponsible ministers, and work together with the heads of the defense establishment to calm the situation. If he acts responsibly, he will find that, unlike members of his government, the opposition will give him full backing,” Lapid said.