Ministers rail at IDF chief for failure to stem Gaza violence – report

Defense minister blasts comments as ‘petty politics’; opposition lawmakers say ministers trying to ‘evade responsibility’

IDF Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot at the Glilot military base near Tel Aviv, March 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot at the Glilot military base near Tel Aviv, March 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Several cabinet ministers have criticized Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot for what they described as the army’s overly complacent policy toward Gaza.

In leaks to Hadashot television news Thursday following a meeting of the security cabinet the previous evening, one unnamed minister was quoted as saying, “In the final analysis, Eisenkot’s policy on responding [to Gaza violence] has failed and allowed things to deteriorate.”

The comment reflected the opinions of several members of the 10-member security cabinet, according to Hebrew media reports. It followed a tense five-hour meeting of the cabinet, during which officials considered upping the IDF’s response to violence along the Gaza border in the wake of a rocket attack earlier that day.

Ministers used the meeting to lambast the IDF chief for allowing an Israeli “loss of sovereignty” on the border, and what they called the military’s insufficient action against the balloon launchers.

By the end of the meeting, the top-level cabinet committee had ordered the military to step up reprisal attacks should border violence continue, but also to take a wait-and-see approach to allow Egyptian mediation efforts to succeed. Ministers said the IDF should ultimately adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward rocket attacks, arson balloons and rioting along the Israeli border, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman defended Eisenkot during the meeting and afterward, slamming the criticism of the IDF chief as “petty politics.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkott, left, Prime Minister Benjamin, center, and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, attend a security council meeting at the Kirya, the IDF Headquarters, in Tel Aviv, February 10, 2018. (Ariel Hermony/Ministry of Defense)

“It’s unfortunate and outrageous that cabinet ministers are playing petty politics at the expense of the chief of staff,” he said in a statement to the media. “It’s ridiculous that cabinet members are blaming the chief of staff for a policy they laid out. This crosses a red line, and it hurts national security.”

Liberman’s criticism was joined from the opposition on Thursday.

Opposition head MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) lambasted the cabinet ministers as “shameful, and our excellent chief of staff has to sit in front of it each day. [Eisenkot is] a responsible person who’s doing the best that can be done with irresponsible politicians,” she charged. “It isn’t just that this is an irresponsible leak at such a sensitive time, it’s the substance, the attempt to run away from responsibility, the amateurishness, the improvisation, the inability to bring any kind of policy to the table. They don’t have a clue about national security.”

Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli added her criticism, writing on Twitter, “The cabinet that for a year and a half has ignored the chief of staff’s proposals and pleading now has the gall to blame him for their failure.”

Palestinians burn tires as they demonstrate during the “Great March of Return” on the Gaza-Israel border in Rafah, Gaza on October 12, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The ministers’ complaints about the chief of staff follow similar comments made Monday by a Likud lawmaker who is a staunch backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

David Bitan claimed in an Army Radio interview that the cabinet was unable to order a more aggressive response to violence in Gaza because the army was refusing to cooperate.

Though not a member of the security cabinet, Bitan asserted that Eisenkot was “not recommending operations” and said the cabinet could not order broad military action without the backing of the army.

“The army is capable of providing an operational solution [but] it doesn’t want to give it,” Bitan claimed. “The cabinet’s hands are tied. The prime minister is trying to create an arrangement, by way of Egyptian intelligence and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, via other countries, but he is not succeeding and so we need to act in other ways.”

MK David Bitan at a Likud party faction meeting in the Knesset on June 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Egypt has reportedly been working for several weeks to hammer out an agreement to end the violence, which has continued for months and gained intensity in the last two weeks.

Liberman lashed Bitan at the time over the comments, which also drew criticism from other right-wing ministers and Netanyahu himself.

Liberman called the comments “intolerable” and “unthinkable” and said they cause “true harm to national security.” Netanyahu said, “We are facing several fronts and are constantly challenged and active. I want you to know the chief of staff is doing an excellent job.”

Since March, Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has orchestrated near-weekly protests along the Gaza fence, which have seen repeated violent clashes between Palestinian rioters and IDF troops, and frequent penetrations of the perimeter. Some 155 Palestinians have been killed, according to AP figures; Hamas, the de facto rulers of Gaza, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members.

The protests have also seen Palestinians sending incendiary devices attached to balloons into Israeli territory, sparking fires that have scorched over 7,000 acres of land and caused millions of shekels in damage.

Israel and Gaza were girding for a possible return to violence Friday, amid fears that renewed border protests could push the sides back to the brink of war after a brief violent flareup days earlier.

A damage to the house that was hit by a missile fired from Gaza Strip, is seen in the city of Beersheba, southern Israel, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Thursday warned Israeli leaders not to make a mistake, while ordering a probe into how a missile was launched from the Strip at the Israeli city of Beersheba Wednesday.

The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups have denied responsibility for the early morning attack, which destroyed a house but did not cause any injuries, saying it was meant to sabotage ceasefire talks.

Israel contends the two groups are the only ones with the ability to launch rockets capable of reaching the northern Negev city. Experts have surmised a freak lightning strike may also be to blame for launch, including a rocket shot at the same time that landed in the sea off the coast of the Tel Aviv area.

Israel struck back Wednesday with some 20 airstrikes and threatened more in response to continued violence, but the area has remained calm since.

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