MKs seek Barak hearing on claim PM endangered Israel’s security
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MKs seek Barak hearing on claim PM endangered Israel’s security

Ex-prime minister hinted at ‘central security threat’ created by Netanyahu; his associates say he wasn’t referring to specific incident

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev holds a press conference at the Knesset on November 30, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev holds a press conference at the Knesset on November 30, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Zionist Union MK Omer Barlev on Thursday demanded that the intelligence subcommittee of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hold an urgent meeting to discuss claims by former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently harmed Israel’s security through his actions.

Barak told a conference of the left-leaning Darkenu organization on Wednesday that Netanyahu had harmed US-Israel ties, which had also opened Israel up to a “major security threat.” But, Barak said, he could not go into more detail because of “the sensitivity of the issues.”

On Thursday, Barak’s aides clarified that the ex-premier was not referring to a specific event, but rather was criticizing Netanyahu for his poor conduct over a protracted period.

They declined to say whether Barak was referring to relations with a specific country, Channel 2 reported.

Barlev, who is a member of the Knesset committee, wrote to chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) on Thursday that Barak’s references to strategic threats in his speech required a classified discussion, not one held “on stages and with microphones.”

Barlev was supported by fellow committee member and Meretz leader Zehava Galon, who called for Barak to appear before the committee to explain his comments.

Barak was anticipating a summons to appear before the committee, the unnamed associates said.

Later on Thursday, Barlev said he had scheduled a meeting with Barak for next week.

“I spoke with Ehud Barak. Obviously we couldn’t speak openly on the phone, so I don’t have any answers to the riddle,” Barlev told Army Radio. “We scheduled a meeting for next week.”

On Wednesday, Barak tore into Netanyahu and his current government, painting an image of a prime minister whose inept governance has cost Israel dearly.

He also accused Netanyahu of “directing a discourse of hatred, silencing, cronyism, intimidation, division, internecine hatred and xenophobia.”

It was Barak’s second major condemnation of the prime minister in a matter of months. In June, the former prime minister decried what he called Israel’s “budding fascism,” saying the country was on track to become “an apartheid state.”

Barak, who served as Netanyahu’s defense minister from 2009 to 2013, accused the premier of bungling negotiations with the United States over Israel’s defensive aid package, known as the memorandum of understanding.

According to Barak’s calculations, Netanyahu’s “failings” in the negotiations of the US aid package mean Israel stands to receive hundreds of millions of dollars less than it would have otherwise been given by its key ally.

“When the American military aid package is signed for the next decade, the full extent of the damage from Netanyahu’s gamble with our relations with the White House will become clear,” a bearded Barak told the conference in Rishon Lezion, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

“Instead of the [annual] $4.5 billion that was expected and feasible a year ago, immediately after the signing of the [Iran nuclear] deal in Vienna, Israel will get $3.8 billion and that will be subject to the demand that we not request additions from Congress,” he said.

US President Barack Obama, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. AFP/ SAUL LOEB)
US President Barack Obama, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

According to the former defense minister, that $700 million loss will result in “essential projects being stopped or canceled and thousands of layoffs in the defense industries.”

In response to Barak’s comments, the Likud party said the former prime minister would be the “last person who should speak” about the defensive aid package, taking aim at the abrupt withdrawal of the army from southern Lebanon during his stint as leader of the country.

“While the prime minister is about to bring in an unprecedented aid package worth close to $40 billion, we’re still waiting for the $1 billion in defense aid that Barak promised we’d get during his hasty pull-out from Lebanon,” the party said, referring to a claim made by the then-prime minister ahead of the IDF’s withdrawal in May 2000.

According to Barak, the cause of the breakdown between Jerusalem and Washington was Netanyahu’s poor relationship with US President Barack Obama, the result of the prime minister “butting into the inter-party conflict there.”

As a recent example, Barak cited the hastily retracted comments by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who compared last year’s Iran nuclear deal to the 1938 Munich Agreement signed by British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler before World War II.

Netanyahu quickly distanced himself from Liberman’s comment, saying he was not informed of his defense minister’s intention ahead of time.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then defense minister Ehud Barak attend a press conference at the PM's office in Jerusalem, November 21, 2012. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then defense minister Ehud Barak attend a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 21, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Barak all but called Netanyahu a liar, saying: “No one in the world believes that insult was lobbed at [US President Barack] Obama without Netanyahu knowing. Due to the fact that in no normal government could such a thing happen without its leader knowing and also because the text sounds exactly like Netanyahu’s own statements.”

The fallout of the Jerusalem-Washington feud also opened Israel up to a “major security threat,” which because of “the sensitivity of the issues” Barak would not detail.

“But anyway I will repeat: This isn’t how you build a wall. This isn’t how you bolster national security,” Barak said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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