Liberman blocks army officials from attending Knesset defense meetings
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Liberman blocks army officials from attending Knesset defense meetings

Two subcommittees have for months been trying unsuccessfully to get information regarding IDF readiness on northern border, opposition MKs charge

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two Knesset subcommittees that deal with highly sensitive security matters have been unable to get information from the army on a specific issue of concern because Defense Minister Avidgor Liberman has ordered officials to boycott the meetings.

Hadashot TV news reported Wednesday that the closed-door subcommittees of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee have for months been seeking information relating to the army’s readiness on the northern borders.

In a statement, opposition MK Omer Barlev [Zionist Union], who chairs the Subcommittee for Readiness and Continuous Security, said that Liberman is “in practice declaring absenteeism, is avoiding giving reports, and is harming the IDF’s readiness for war.”

Another opposition lawmaker, Yesh Atid’s Ofer Shelah, who chairs the Subcommittee for Security Perception and the Building of Forces, said “the attempt to harm [the committee’s] work is real damage to security. We won’t let this happen.”

The Defense Ministry responded in a statement to Hadashot that “Liberman is acting according to procedures that have always existed.”

Referring to the report about the nature of the information that the committees are seeking, the ministry added: “The leak that is coming from a place that is supposed to be the Holy of Holies for keepers of secrets is another reason for the caution that the Defense Minister must take.”

The report did not specify exactly what information Barlev and Shelah wanted to receive.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, left, speaks with Zionist Union MK Omer Barlev during an assembly session in the plenum hall at the Knesset, February 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In a joint statement, the lawmakers said they will propose a bill to anchor in law attendance by security officials at the meetings and to give the committee powers to act if officials refuse or do not provide required information.

The development came after prolonged negotiations for appropriate officials to attend a meeting held last Tuesday failed, with the lawmakers eventually being told by the IDF that Liberman had instructed officers and ministry representatives to not participate.

When no officers or ministry officials arrived for the meeting, Barlev sent a letter to Knesset Chairman Yuli Edelstein and to the chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Avi Dichter, both of the ruling Likud party. In the communication, Barlev wrote that the Defense Ministry’s attitude “causes serious harm to the supervisory capacity of the Knesset on the government.”

Barlev asked to urgently meet with Edelstein and Dichter to form a position on the matter. A meeting between the three was held, but did not resolve the issue, the TV report said.

Tensions have been taut on the northern borders amid a standoff with Iran, which Israel fears is striving to establish forward military bases in Syria from which to attack the Jewish state. Israel has launched several airstrikes against Iranian military assets in Syria, while a barrage of rockets, believed to have been launched by Iranian-backed groups, was fired at the Golan Heights.

Israel has vowed to prevent, at all costs, Iranian entrenchment in Syria where Tehran is helping embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad suppress an insurgency now in its eighth year.

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