Liberman defends violating censor gag on Mossad chief’s secret Qatar trip

Yisrael Beytenu party chief denies he risked national security by revealing that the spy chief and an IDF general traveled to Doha to discuss Gaza ceasefire

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman at the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, in Tel Aviv, on January 30, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman at the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, in Tel Aviv, on January 30, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman on Sunday rejected allegations that he had harmed national security by revealing that the head of the Mossad and a military general had traveled to Qatar earlier this month, saying that the decision to censor the information was political.

On Saturday night, Liberman told Channel 12 news that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and the top officer of the Israel Defense Forces in charge of Gaza, Southern Command chief Herzi Halevi, visited Doha on the orders of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ask the Qataris to continue their periodic payments to the Hamas terror group.

“On Wednesday two weeks ago the head of Mossad… and the head of [IDF] Southern Command visit Qatar on an errand from Netanyahu, and they simply beg the Qataris to keep sending money to Hamas after March 30. The Qataris have said they will stop sending money on March 30,” Liberman charged.

Prior to his comments on national television, information about the trip could not be published by order of the military censor.

Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a cyber conference at Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday responded to Liberman’s violation of the censorship, saying that he was “willing to harm the security of Israel and do anything in order to force the Likud out of government.”

Liberman, who has long been a critic of Netanyahu’s policies on Gaza, defended his actions, saying that the censor’s decision to gag information about the trip — which was known to several Israeli reporters — was not based on legitimate security concerns, but rather on political considerations.

“There has never been a political figure who leaked security information for political purposes more than Netanyahu,” Liberman said.

“In the case of the head of the Mossad’s visit to Qatar, the use of the censor was cynical and political, which was meant to hide the submission to terror and the desire to purchase calm until the elections, while abandoning both the security of residents of the south for the long term and the civilians and soldiers being held captive by Hamas,” he said.

Head of the IDF Southern Command Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi oversees an operation to assassinate Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata on November 12, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Yisrael Beytenu leader is a bitter political enemy and vocal critic of Netanyahu, and twice frustrated Netanyahu’s efforts to form a majority coalition after elections last April and September. Israel goes to the polls for the third time in a year on March 2.

In his TV interview, Liberman also said that Netanyahu will seek a plea bargain after the elections, having been indicted for graft in three cases. The prime minister’s trial is set to start on March 17. Netanyahu “is not running in these elections in order to put a government together. He’s running in order [to strengthen his position] to seal a plea bargain,” said Liberman.

With Israel’s approval, Qatar since 2018 has periodically provided millions of dollars in cash to Hamas to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, allow the group to pay its civil servants and provide aid to tens of thousands of impoverished families.

Israel has reportedly done so in exchange for Hamas ensuring calm in the south and as part of efforts to reach a long-term ceasefire with the terror group.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Likud party event in Lod, on February 11, 2020. (Flash90)

“Both Egypt and Qatar are angry with Hamas and planned to cut ties with them. Suddenly Netanyahu appears as the defender of Hamas, as though it was an environmental organization. This is a policy of submission to terror,” Liberman said.

Liberman accused Netanyahu of paying “protection money” to Hamas, despite the fact that these payments started during his tenure as defense minister.

The transfers were also opposed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has sought to pressure and weaken Hamas in Gaza.

Israel’s government has offered little information about the transfers.

Recently tensions along the border with Gaza have escalated due to an increase in rocket attacks and the use of helium balloons carrying explosives and incendiary devices into Israeli territory.

Israel and Gaza have engaged in several sporadic rounds of violence over the last two years as the sides attempted to reach a long-term ceasefire.

The last major conflict between the two sides was a 50-day war in 2014, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” by the IDF. During the fighting Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups in Gaza launched thousands of rockets into Israel, including at Tel Aviv and other central regions of the country.

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