Report and leaks dismissed as effort to sabotage coalition

TV report claims to identify 3 diplomatic blunders by Lapid with US and Jordan

After Shaked heard claiming FM botching ties, TV says she was referring to promises FM made to Biden admin. on Iran and US consulate in Jerusalem, and Jordan’s Temple Mt. status

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accompanied by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyanin, right, appear at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, October 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accompanied by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyanin, right, appear at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, October 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

A day after Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked of Yamina, a close political ally of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, was heard in a leaked recording accusing Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of botching ties with the US and Jordan, a TV report Thursday said she was referring to problematic commitments made by Lapid to both countries that later had to be walked back and specified what it said those commitments were.

Lapid, Bennett and Shaked dismissed Wednesday’s leak and Thursday’s report as part of an effort to sabotage the multi-party coalition ahead of next month’s crucial budget vote.

In recordings aired by Channel 12 news on Wednesday, Shaked was heard talking down on coalition partners Lapid and Benny Gantz and casting doubt on whether the premiership rotation agreement between Bennett and Lapid would be honored come 2023.

The recordings were the latest signs of the growing fissures within the diverse coalition, ahead of the budget vote next month upon which the government’s survival hinges.

In the tapes, Shaked, the No. 2 in Bennett’s Yamina party, also accused Lapid of botching ties with Jordan and the US. Shaked can be heard calling Lapid “shallow” in the tapes, while claiming Bennett is constantly having to clean up after him.

“Every week Lapid drops a bomb and Naftali comes to the rescue. Every week, and no one knows,” she said, apparently referring to diplomatic faux pas.

“He did this like three times, with the Jordanians, with the Americans… and Naftali came to the rescue, unequivocally,” Shaked added.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz speak in the Knesset on September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

While Shaked did not elaborate, on Thursday Channel 12 said it had identified the three instances.

The first was reportedly when Lapid promised US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a July phone call that there would be “no surprises” regarding Iran’s nuclear program, a commitment that appears to take away Israel’s ability to act unilaterally if in danger.

The TV report said that Bennett was then forced to clarify to the Americans that the commitment was only in regard to diplomatic moves and that Israel reserves the right to take military action as it sees necessary.

The second incident occurred when Lapid reportedly told Blinken that Israel’s opposition to the US reopening its consulate in Jerusalem was a temporary political issue aimed at preserving the coalition, leading the Americans to believe that it would be approved once the coalition was stable, Channel 12 said citing several government ministers.

However, Bennett was then forced to clarify to US President Joe Biden that Israel’s opposition to the move was deeply ideological and Israel would not agree to the move even after the budget passes.

The third incident involved ties with Jordan, the report said, claiming that in a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister  Ayman Safadi, Lapid gave approval to place a copy of the Jordanian royal family’s Quran in the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.

The report said Lapid made the promise without realizing that such a move would have “wide-ranging diplomatic and symbolic consequences.”

The report said Bennett, in a later meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, had to clarify that such a move was not going to happen.

Earlier this year dispute over the visit of Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein to the Temple Mount led to Jordan retaliating by blocking then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu from using Jordanian airspace on a planned visit to the UAE.

Under their 1994 peace treaty, Israel recognizes Jordan as the custodian of the Temple Mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism and the site of the third holiest shrine in Islam.

Palestinians chant slogans following Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, on June 18, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. However, it allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount, where Jews are allowed to visit, but not to pray.

The site has been a frequent flashpoint.

The TV said this was the first time the incident had been reported and gave no sources for the information.

In response to the report, Shaked, Lapid and Bennett all refused to comment on the specific allegations, saying that the leaks were part of an ongoing attempt to destabilize the coalition.

“Both Shaked and I have one goal — to pass the budget and stabilize the government,” Lapid said. “They will not divert me from my path through leaks and recordings, they will not succeed in runing the good atmosphere in the government where we will continue to work together for the sake of the country.”

The Prime Minister’s Office also defended Lapid, saying that he was “doing excellent work in strengthening Israel’s standing around the world from Morocco to Washington.”

“Israel’s foreign relations are in a wonderful shape. The prime minister and foreign minister are working in complete coordination,” the statement said.

In the recordings released Wednesday Shaked also took a swipe at Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who she said was “even worse than Lapid,” though she provided no further information in the recordings.

The network also quoted Shaked as questioning whether Yamina will honor the rotation agreement that would see Lapid take over as premier in 2023 — though it did not air a recording of those remarks.

It was not clear who Shaked was speaking to in the leaked recordings.

In a statement to the network, Shaked said she’d made the statements in anger after a minister made anonymous comments against her to the press earlier this month, attacking her for saying she doesn’t support a two-state solution during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, left, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seen during a plenary session at the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 12 said Shaked had called Lapid shortly before the TV segment aired to express her regret.

The incident comes amid increased tensions in the coalition of right-wing, left-wing and centrist parties, as well as an Islamist one. The narrow governing coalition must pass a 2021 budget by November 14, and Bennett and other ministers have warned against rocking the boat in the run-up to that vote. If the much-delayed budget — it would be the first state budget to be approved in over three years — does not pass by the deadline, the coalition will automatically dissolve, triggering new elections.

The government will need all of its lawmakers on board to approve the budget.

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