Barkat: 'We are too considerate; our soldiers pay a heavy price'

Netanyahu, Gantz assail Barkat for saying IDF tactics endangering soldiers

PM tells economy minister that repeating claim over and over ‘doesn’t make it true’; president tells politicians to avoid divisive prewar discourse, warning it will help Hamas

Economy Minister Nir Barkat at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on December 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Economy Minister Nir Barkat at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on December 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday berated Economy Minister Nir Barkat for complaining that not enough was being done to protect soldiers’ lives in the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Barkat’s accusations, made in public comments and subsequently at the weekly cabinet meeting, drew fire from other ministers as well, including war cabinet member Benny Gantz who called on ministers to not make “baseless declarations.”

And President Isaac Herzog delivered an address bemoaning signs of old political squabbles returning to the fore, eating into unity forged in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attacks and giving succor to Hamas.

Leaks from the weekly cabinet meeting were reported by several Hebrew media outlets.

Barkat, seen as a potential future rival to Netanyahu as leader of the Likud party, told ministers, “The number of air force bombardments has fallen dramatically. Soldiers are being sent to booby-trapped buildings like [sitting] ducks.”

The result, he claimed, were tactics that are “unnecessarily endangering soldiers.”

Netanyahu responded, “The fact that you keep saying this doesn’t make it true. There are operational considerations.”

“No consideration can justify endangering the lives of our soldiers for some imaginary morality,” Barkat insisted. “In practice, we protect terrorists and endanger the lives of [Israeli] fighters and the result is dead soldiers. This is a reckless handling of the war.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, December 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)

“Leadership is tested by the ability to withstand pressure and, unfortunately, this cabinet does not withstand pressure,” Barkat declared.

Netanyahu, justifying his policies, said, “There are countries [whose positions] we have to take into account. If we don’t do that, eventually there’ll be a UN decision to impose a blockade on us. The whole world will be against us.”

Asked about Barkat’s criticism, the IDF Spokesman, Daniel Hagari, said later Sunday that “any IDF force on the ground that requires air support, for any mission, gets the necessary protection.”

Earlier, as he arrived for the cabinet meeting, Barkat told the media, “Surrendering to any external pressure, even if it is from our best friends, is a grave mistake,” apparently referring to US concerns over mounting civilian casualties among the Gaza population.

“It is unacceptable that we would endanger our soldiers, and send them exposed into buildings that haven’t been bombed,” he said. “We are too nice, and we are too considerate. And the bottom line is that our soldiers, the fighters, take disproportionate risks and we pay a heavy price.”

Gantz was not at the meeting but later, in a tweet perceived as a rebuke of Barkat, he praised IDF soldiers and said they are “receiving all the necessary tools,” and that ground forces are getting “widespread and accurate aerial cover with unprecedented power.”

“Especially at this time, it is expected from government ministers and all public leaders to be responsible in their remarks and not issue baseless declarations that harm the resilience of all of Israel society, and the families of combat soldiers in particular,” he said.

Gantz, the head of the centrist National Unity party that entered an emergency government after the ongoing war broke out, is a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff.

Coalition Shas party leader MK Aryeh Deri retweeted Gantz’s post with the remark “I back every word.”

Responding to Gantz, Barkat tweeted that the war cabinet minister is “still a prisoner to the misconception” of risking soldiers’ lives over the safety of Gaza’s civilians.

“I would expect him to learn some modesty and listen to factual criticism and understand that the lives of our fighters are more important than the lives of the Gazans,” he wrote.

Minister Benny Gantz arrives for a press conference at the Defense Ministry, in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Education Minister Yoav Kisch, a fellow member of the Likud party, criticized Barkat and hinted that the economy minister made the cabinet remarks and then leaked them to press for the publicity.

Kisch tweeted there had been a “flood of reports that Barkat fought on behalf of the soldiers in the government. So just to make it clear, we are all concerned only about the soldiers and about achieving the goal of victory in the war and bringing back the hostages. That is how the prime minister is acting, Gantz, and the whole cabinet.”

In a primetime address Sunday, Herzog urged politicians to continue avoiding the bickering and divisiveness that characterized much political debate before October 7, telling them to “show responsibility, restrain yourselves and wait a little longer with the political campaigns and messages.”

“The enemy is waiting to see chasms among us, for us to start fighting with one another. It sees the confrontations, the ego battles and the political headbutting,” Herzog said. “It celebrates every time disagreement drives us apart.”

“We must not return to the discourse of October 6, of us and them,” he added. “We must not return to toxic discourse online. Anyone who returns us to the discourse of October 6 harms the war effort and citizens’ security.”

Netanyahu also addressed the issue of rising casualties in the IDF, saying in an evening video statement posted to social media that the war has a “very heavy price,” and that Israel is “doing everything to protect the lives of our soldiers.”

He vowed that the fight would continue until it achieves the three goals of destroying Hamas, removing it from power in the Gaza Strip, and releasing all the hostages held in Gaza.

Immigration and Absorption Minister Ofir Sofer called on his cabinet peers to end their public bickering.

“I would like to remind everyone who has forgotten that we are at war. The bereaved families hear us, the soldiers on all fronts, and the entire nation,” he said. “It is expected of all of us and especially of the government ministers to behave responsibly and show leadership.”

Friends and family of IDF soldier Staff Sgt. Birhanu Kassie attend his funeral at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem on December 24, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The IDF announced over the weekend and on Sunday the deaths of 15 soldiers, bringing the toll during its ground operation in Gaza to 154.

Israel launched its vast military operation against Hamas following the terror group’s murderous invasion of southern Israel on October 7, in which it killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took another 240 hostages into Gaza.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims more than 20,000 people have been killed in the Strip during the war, an unverified figure. Israel says it assesses troops have killed some 8,000 terror operatives. Another 1,000 Hamas terrorists were killed in Israel on October 7, during the terror group’s onslaught.

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