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Lawmakers demand inquiry into Gaza war report leaks

MKs on both sides of the aisle tell attorney general key details from secret comptroller report were illegally handed to the press

Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharrar leads a State Control Committee meeting on March 8, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharrar leads a State Control Committee meeting on March 8, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Lawmakers who voted to publicize a damning State Comptroller report on the cabinet’s handling of the 2014 Gaza war are calling for an “urgent inquiry” into how some of the classified contents of the report were leaked to the press.

Members of the subcommittee on classified materials hailing from five different Knesset factions wrote a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit expressing “shock” at the leaks, according to the Israel Hayom daily.

“To the subcommittee’s shock, even before the [subcommittee made the] decision to publicize the report or parts thereof, key details of the report, as well as classified information related directly to the report, were leaked to the press,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter is signed by all five members of the subcommittee, which is part of the parliament’s State Control Committee: chairwoman Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid), Ya’akov Margi (Shas), Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union), David Bitan (Likud) and Meirav Ben-Ari (Kulanu).

“The subcommittee views such incidents with great severity, as they may harm fundamental national interests, undermine [the subcommittee’s] classified work and its ability to make decision as required under law,” they told the attorney general.

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)

Such leaks can carry a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment, the lawmakers note.

“We ask you to open an urgent inquiry into the matter to determine the source of the leak and to draw lessons that might prevent similar incidents in the future,” they write.

Last month, the subcommittee voted unanimously to release to the public parts of the biting comptroller’s report related to how the security cabinet of top-level ministers handled itself during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira presents the State Comptroller's Report in the Knesset on November 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira presents the State Comptroller’s Report in the Knesset on November 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira will make the final decision on when the document will be released, though he is expected to make it available to the public in the coming weeks.

When it is eventually released, the document will give Israelis a rare look at the discussions of one of the most powerful and secretive state institutions, the powerful 10-member committee of ministers that oversees national security and foreign policy.

According to some of the leaks mentioned in the letter, the report is said to show bitter infighting among members of the security cabinet, especially between then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and then-economy minister Naftali Bennett.

Coalition officials, particularly those close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fought against releasing the report.

The report finds 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.

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

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.

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

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

The subcommittee is slated to hold a closed-door debate on the tunnels section of the report on Tuesday.

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