Minister says northern op proves Liberman resignation was ‘irresponsible’
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Minister says northern op proves Liberman resignation was ‘irresponsible’

Israel Katz claims former defense minister stepped down last month ‘for political considerations that have failed’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left,  Transportation Minister Israel Katz, center, and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, center, and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A senior member of the ruling Likud party on Wednesday assailed MK Avigdor Liberman for “irresponsibly” resigning as defense minister last month, ahead of an operation launched Tuesday to destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels in the north.

Liberman resigned on November 14, after a major flareup that saw some 460 rockets launched from the Gaza Strip at communities in Israel by Palestinian terror groups, killing one person and injuring many others. In stepping down, Liberman accused the government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “capitulating to terror” by agreeing to a truce with the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza and is committed to Israel’s destruction,.

The premier had argued at the time that there were reasons, which he could not divulge, for not going to war that were related to national security — apparently referring to the imminent operation against Hezbollah.

“Today it is clear to everyone that his resignation was irresponsible, and was carried out for political considerations that have failed,” Transportation Minister Israel Katz told Israel Radio.

Katz also criticized Liberman for calling for the toppling of Hamas before he became defense minister but then “acting to raise money for them” when he held the position. He was apparently referring to Israeli efforts to secure foreign aid to help ease the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.

Avigdor Liberman announces his resignation from defense portfolio during a Jerusalem press conference, November 14, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

In response, Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party swiped at Katz.

“We suggest that the transportation minister, instead of revealing details from cabinet discussions in a live broadcast, focus on solving the problem of traffic jams on the roads, widening Route 90 and [improving] the functioning of Israel Railways.”

Katz during the interview also took aim at the Jewish Home party, which had delivered an ultimatum following Liberman’s resignation and demanded the position of defense minister for party chief Naftali Bennett as a condition for remaining in the coalition. Bennett ultimately dropped the demand after Netanyahu rejected it and appointed himself defense chief.

“The ultimatum of certain officials regarding the defense portfolio was mistaken, and they were right to withdraw it,” Katz said.

The IDF launched Operation Northern Shield on Tuesday to thwart attack tunnels dug by Lebanese terror group Hezbollah across the border from southern Lebanon.

According to the military, the operation is expected to last several weeks and is being led by the head of the IDF Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick.

In this photo released by Hezbollah Central Military Media, Israeli military diggers work on the Lebanese-Israeli border next to a wall that was built by Israel facing the southern village of Kafr Kila, Lebanon on Tuesday, December. 4, 2018. (Hezbollah Military Media via AP)

The IDF uncovered one tunnel that according to the IDF spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, extended some 40 meters into Israel.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said that in the wake of the 2014 Gaza war, in which the threat of Hamas tunnels was a major issue, the Israeli military “built a highly advanced operational, technological engineering and intelligence capability to neutralize attack tunnels, both in the north and in the south.”

The army chief said the heads of communities in northern Israel were informed of the operation ahead of time and lauded them for showing “responsibility” by not revealing that it was poised to take place.

He said that the IDF was “in possession of Hezbollah’s offensive tunneling plans” and called on Israelis to “feel safe, to continue their daily routines and to continue traveling to the north.”

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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