Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday defended his conduct during the 2014 Gaza war against Hamas, saying the blistering state comptroller reports released earlier in the day ignore that the operation was a “great success.”
The state comptroller reports found significant gaps in the military’s intelligence in the lead-up to the war, as well as a lack of clearly defined operational plans for how to destroy Hamas attack tunnels, which may have led, the report said, to the unnecessary deaths of Israeli soldiers during the 50-day conflict.
The prime minister flatly rejected the critique. As the reports were released to the public Tuesday afternoon, Netanyahu released a statement touting the military operation as a “great success,” saying that Israel “hit Hamas harder than it had ever been hit before, killing more than 1,000 terrorists and destroying thousands of rockets.”
The statement said that during the war Israel was able to “thwart the attack on its cities thanks to the instructions of Prime Minister Netanyahu to equip [the army] with thousands of interceptors for the Iron Dome [missile defense] batteries.”
Netanyahu also highlighted what he said was Israel’s successful foiling of “Hamas’s plan to invade a [border] community through the tunnels and kidnap citizens.”
Netanyahu said the “proof of the results” of the war is the “unprecedented quiet that reigns in the Gaza periphery,” which he described as the calmest period in the area “since the Six Day War” in 1967.
The prime minister also said that the “important lessons of Operation Protective Edge have already been implemented in practice — thoroughly, responsibly and quietly,” which he lamented “does not appear in the [state] comptroller’s report.”
Earlier Tuesday, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira personally hit back at Netanyahu’s claim Monday suggesting the ombudsman was not supportive of Israel’s defense establishment. Netanyahu on Monday said “unlike the comptroller’s report, I back the heads of the IDF and the Shin Bet.”
Shapira on Tuesday said the prime minister’s statement constituted an “attack” and “attempts to delegitimize” both the findings of the report and Shapira personally.
This criticism by the prime minister was “intended to discourage the institution of the [state] comptroller and to harm its status as defined by law,” the statement from the ombudsman said.
A Shapira spokesperson also said that “despite the prime minister’s words,” the state comptroller’s reports laud “the spirit of strength, resourcefulness and initiative that enabled the commanders and soldiers of the IDF to fight against the abundance of tunnels in the Gaza Strip, strive to fulfill their mission, deal with the tunnels to the best of their ability and to reach the accomplishments that were achieved in this operation.”
In addition, the statement said that the report was compiled “in accordance with the law, by professional and trained [state] comptroller teams” and was done “honestly, thoroughly and without bias” or any political considerations.
While the reports were only released to the public on Tuesday, most of the critiques they contain have been reported on widely for months, as versions of the scalding documents circulated among relevant politicians and defense officials — and were leaked by them — as early as May 2016.
One report deals with the performance of the government and military during the conflict, dubbed Operation Protective Edge in Israel, and in the lead-up to it in general, with special attention paid to Hamas tunnels and Israel’s lax preparations for dealing with their threat. A second, shorter report deals only with the tunnel threat, but in far greater detail.
The more general war report does not address the government’s alleged lack of an overall strategy for the Gaza Strip. The coastal enclave’s terrorist Hamas rulers are anathema to Israel, and the Jewish state has recognized the rapidly approaching humanitarian crisis in the Strip. Yet, no comprehensive solution to the problem had been offered by the government at the time; nor in the years afterward, the report said.
Though tunnel destruction became a central objective of the campaign, the comptroller accused Netanyahu of having kept senior ministers in the dark about the subterranean threat prior to the war and only seriously addressing it in cabinet meetings after the operation began.
Netanyahu, for his part, has repeatedly denied the accusation, saying the issue of Hamas’s subterranean attack infrastructure was in fact presented as a strategic threat to the cabinet.
Responding to an initial draft of the report, the Prime Minister’s Office provided eight dates, beginning in November 2013, when the issue of tunnels was raised in the cabinet. But Shapira found those discussions to have been cursory and perfunctory and not representative of the full extent of the risk posed by the tunnels.
The tunnel threat report also accused Netanyahu and and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon of endangering Israelis living near Gaza by halting government funding for their local security teams, and pulling the soldiers who used to stand guard outside their communities in the year and a half leading up to the operation.
Judah Ari Gross and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.