Netanyahu blasts Blue and White for celebrating after rocket forces him offstage

PM says he doesn’t know who was more gleeful, Gaza terror groups or Blue and White; top Likud officials say he had no choice but to follow bodyguards’ orders at campaign rally

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taken off stage during a campaign event in Ashdod due to incoming rocket sirens, September 10, 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taken off stage during a campaign event in Ashdod due to incoming rocket sirens, September 10, 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday accused his rivals in the Blue and White party of “gloating” after the he was rushed offstage to take cover on Tuesday night as rockets fired from the Gaza Strip triggered sirens at his campaign event in Ashdod.

“I heard the cries of joy of [Blue and White Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz,” said Netanyahu on Wednesday during a Knesset debate on the so-called camera bill. “I don’t know where there was more excitement, in Gaza or among Lapid and Gantz… For shame.”

Top Likud officials defended the prime minister and the Shin Bet security agency’s response, after a Blue and White leader took pride in remaining onstage during the bombardment in the nearby southern city of Ashkelon.

“A low point of the elections: Three former IDF chiefs of staff are gloating over fire at the prime minister. Shameful,” the right-wing party tweeted, referring to Blue and White’s triumvirate of lieutenants-general: leader Benny Gantz, and MKs Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon.

For many of his rivals, the scenes of Netanyahu being whisked away by a group of bodyguards provided a counterpoint to the image he has attempted to cultivate as Mr. Security, highlighting what critics say is his government’s failure to deal with ongoing attacks from Gaza terror groups.

“A red alert this evening in Ashdod while Netanyahu is on stage is a red flag for the citizens of Israel. Netanyahu is done and can leave the stage,” wrote Yair Lapid, co-leader of the Blue and White party, on Tuesday.

At least two rockets were shot at Ashdod and nearby Ashkelon. Both were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Israeli jets targeted 15 sites in the Gaza Strip in retaliation overnight.

Gantz touted the fact that his party member and fellow former general Ashkenazi remained onstage at a campaign event in Ashkelon as the alarm sounded, potentially putting himself in danger, while Netanyahu left the stage — as required by Home Front orders.

At an event in the Druze village of Julis in the north, Gantz said that while he was on his way there “they urged the prime minister to some bunker, while our Gabi Ashkenazi was onstage in Ashkelon and continued to talk as if nothing was happening.”

“We are not afraid, not of Hamas and not of Hezbollah. We are committed and we are here,” Gantz added, taking aim at the premier, who earlier Tuesday pledged to annex substantial parts of the West Bank if elected. “Today we saw how the big words are replaced with zero action. Rather than issuing empty statements on the Jordan Valley, we intend to defend our sovereignty in the south. We won’t accept any violation of sovereignty. Not a missile, not a kite, not a rocket.”

“If I’d been there,” Gantz added Wednesday, “I wouldn’t have moved.”

Blue and White party leaders (L-R) Benny Gantz, Moshe Yaalon, Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi hold a statement at the Knesset, September 9, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Senior Likud members on Wednesday praised Netanyahu for seeking shelter.

“Netanyahu acted entirely correctly under these circumstances,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told Army Radio. “You must remember to set a personal example and not play the hero.

“If the event would have continued as usual, it would have endangered all those who would want to seek shelter,” he said.

As prime minister, Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning, Netanyahu “must follow the Shin Bet’s orders and must be evacuated to a bomb shelter. He has no discretion [on the matter].”

Right-wing figures also slammed the premier.

Yamina party member Naftali Bennett called the incident a “national humiliation,” adding: “Hamas has stopped fearing Israel. Israel’s security will be reinstated by assassinating Hamas chiefs, not press conferences.”

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at Channel 12 news conference in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“Today’s event proves that Netanyahu’s policy, which is an effective surrender to terror, has gone bankrupt,” Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman said in a statement, adding that he, too, had been in Ashdod for a campaign event when the sirens sounded.

The city of Ashkelon opened its public bomb shelters after the sirens went off as a precautionary measure in case rocket attacks persisted.

Netanyahu has attempted to thread a line between keeping Gazan groups deterred from attacking Israel while also being wary not to push the Strip into a fresh war.

Critics have slammed him for reaching a series of tacit ceasefire agreements with the Hamas terror group.

Since the outbreak of protests on the Gaza border last year, Israel has intermittently taken a number of steps to stem outbreaks of violence from the coastal territory, such as closing border crossings, cutting fuel shipments, and reducing the permitted fishing area off the coast of the Strip. It has rolled back such moves following decreases in violence.

A deal was brokered several months ago by UN and Egyptian officials to end several violent flare-ups in recent months between Israel and Hamas, which have fought three devastating wars since 2008, and to help stabilize the territory and prevent a humanitarian collapse.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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