Liberman tells IDF chiefs not to answer Bennett’s questions
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Liberman tells IDF chiefs not to answer Bennett’s questions

Defense minister said to clash with education minister after the latter grilled senior officers during security cabinet meeting

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

Then Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman at the Knesset on July 22, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Then Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman at the Knesset on July 22, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was reportedly so irritated over a grilling Education Minister Naftali Bennett gave to senior IDF officers during a security cabinet meeting Saturday night that he ordered the officers to stop answering Bennett’s questions.

A Channel 2 report Sunday of the clash during a security cabinet meeting the night before came as ministers expressed increasing exasperation with Bennett over his criticism of the security cabinet and the decisions it makes on matters of defense.

The security cabinet, comprising senior ministers, convened for an emergency meeting after two Israelis were killed in terror attacks last week and six people were injured, one of them seriously.

The ministers eventually decided on a series of measures reportedly including new efforts to thwart Palestinian Authority financial support for the families of terrorists, investigation of relatives of terrorists, and demolition of illegal buildings. Israel has also bolstered troop deployment in the Hebron area, and intensified inspections on Palestinian vehicles in the area.

During the security cabinet meeting, Bennett relentlessly quizzed top IDF chiefs in a critical manner, prompting Liberman to tell him to stop, the report said. When Bennett continued to probe the officers, Liberman instructed them to stop answering his questions, the report said. “Don’t answer him,” Liberman reportedly said.

A minister, who was not identified in the report, was quoting as saying, “You can’t make a joke out of the cabinet in the media. That shows a lack of faith in us and the security establishment and we can’t work like that.”

Housing Minister Yoav Galant on March 31, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Housing Minister Yoav Galant on March 31, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Sunday security cabinet member Housing Minister Yoav Galant also appeared to criticize Bennett during an interview he gave with the Ynet news site.

“Together with some of the ministers and the Israeli public, I have observed that there are attacks on the cabinet by cabinet members,” he said. “It is a serious matter; I think the cabinet is the supreme security council of Israel.

“It’s unacceptable that someone who is a member of a system attacks that system, and by extension the commander of the IDF, the head of the Shin Bet, the defense minister, the prime minister, and the ministers who are supporting him,” he continued. “The public is looking for solutions, not internal conflicts and tricks.”

Last week 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in her bedroom on Thursday morning in the Kiryat Arba settlement, close to the West Bank town of Hebron. A civilian security guard who responded to the brutal attack was seriously injured by the Palestinian assailant, Muhammad Nasser Tarayrah, 17, from Bani Na’im. Tarayrah was shot and killed by other guards.

Reproduction photo, courtesy of the family, of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, who was stabbed and killed in a terror attack in the settlement of Kiryat Arba, in the West Bank on June 30, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, who was stabbed and killed in a terror attack in the settlement of Kiryat Arba, in the West Bank on June 30, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Thursday two people were injured in a stabbing attack in the city of Netanya. The assailant was shot dead at the scene by an armed civilian. Reports named him as 40-year-old Wael Abu Saleh.

Another terror attack on Friday near Hebron killed a rabbi, Miki Mark, and seriously injured his wife while they were driving on Route 60. Two of their children were also wounded in the shooting attack.

Miki Mark, who was murdered in a terror attack near Hebron on July 1, 2016 (Courtesy)
Miki Mark, who was murdered in a terror attack near Hebron on July 1, 2016 (Courtesy)

In response, the IDF stepped up its troop presence in the West Bank, sending two battalions to help secure settlements and the main roads used by Israelis. A closure on Hebron was also imposed.

Bennett had demanded that, as a matter of urgency, the security cabinet meeting be brought forward to Friday and not delayed until the following evening, saying that “the terror won’t wait until the end of Shabbat.”

Cabinet meetings are usually not held during Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.

Sources close to Bennett also voiced criticism of the government, saying that measures taken in the past had proved ineffective at deterring attacks.

Bennett, who leads the religious-nationalist Jewish Home party, said before the security cabinet meeting that he would present a far-reaching plan to halt the wave of terror attacks.

Suggestions included in his plan, he said, were the imprisonment or expulsion of terrorists’ families; the arrest of all Hamas operatives in the West Bank; the destruction of thousands of illegally built homes in the West Bank; the complete closure of the villages of assailants; resumption of full IDF military activity in West Bank areas that are under the control of the Palestinian Authority; the prevention of Palestinian vehicles from traveling on Route 60 — the West Bank’s main north-to-south road; and disabling access to the internet in the entire Hebron region.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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