Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Thursday that Israel hit Hezbollah targets in Lebanon in a retaliatory strike last week, contradicting military officials who insisted that sorties had focused specifically on military posts belonging to the Hamas terror group.
Netanyahu made the claim in an interview to the Channel 14 news network, one of half a dozen comments that appeared to challenge historical record or official stances. Critics widely consider the channel to be a Netanyahu mouthpiece.
On April 7, the Israel Defense Forces said it had struck a number of sites belonging to Hamas in southern Lebanon, accusing the group of being responsible for a barrage of missiles fired on northern Israel a day earlier. It also struck Hamas in Gaza in response to rockets from there. Reports in Hebrew-language media later indicated that military officials had advised against striking Hezbollah and risking drawing it into a wider conflict.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah mocked Israel’s response Friday, claiming it was afraid to confront the group or its Iranian patron and claiming that only banana groves and an irrigation ditch had been struck.
During Thursday’s appearance on Channel 14’s “The Patriots” panel show, Netanyahu highlighted the multi-frontal Israeli counterattack to the barrages of rockets that were fired at Israel from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.
“Look at what we’ve done recently. We hit the Iranians, we attacked Syria, we attacked Hezbollah and Hamas targets in Lebanon. And as I said, Hamas won’t be allowed to open another front in Lebanon, and I think that message was received,” he said, adding that targets were also attacked in Gaza and the West Bank.
“We didn’t attack just in the air, and not just Hezbollah targets, but other targets,” Netanyahu stated.
When pressed if he meant that Israel’s operation had involved a ground-based attack as well, the premier answered: “We attacked in many different ways, and not everything was visible.”
On Monday this week, Netanyahu similarly claimed that Israel targeted Hezbollah, seemingly seeking to demonstrate that Israel was not afraid to target the powerful Hezbollah terror group.
In its own summary of last Friday’s counter-strikes in Lebanon, the IDF said it had targeted “terrorist infrastructures belonging to Hamas” in the southern part of the country where Hamas has a strong presence in Palestinian refugee camps.
During the interview, Netanyahu also falsely claimed that the previous government led by current opposition chair Yair Lapid had signed a maritime agreement with Hezbollah, even though it had actually signed a deal with the Lebanese government, which includes Hezbollah. The same deal had been sought by the Likud leader during his previous terms as premier.
He also shrugged off fears among Israel’s intelligence community that the country was facing a major escalation in its regional conflicts, even as internal divisions wrought by the government’s push to overhaul the judiciary threaten to weaken the nation from within. Former national security advisor Yaacov Amidror warned Thursday that war with Iran is increasingly likely and Israel needs to gear up to attack without assistance from the United States.
“I think it’s an exaggeration,” Netanyahu said while insisting that Israel is constantly preparing for every scenario.
While discussing the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Netanyahu falsely claimed that he was the head of the opposition in the Knesset at the time. But he was actually part of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s coalition and voted several times for the plan before resigning right before it was carried out.
The opposition leader at the time was Tommy Lapid, head of the now-defunct Shinui party, and father of current opposition leader Yair Lapid.
“When we faced the disengagement, and they displaced thousands of Jews from their homes, I was the opposition leader,” Netanyahu said, before being interrupted by Magal who clarified he was a part of Sharon’s government.
“No, I left the government before the evacuation, I resigned from the government,” Netanyahu stated.
Netanyahu said that the Gaza withdrawal was carried out by a “left-wing government,” though the coalition was still led by Sharon of the Likud party, even after some in the faction defected.
Netanyahu also claimed that he was accepted into the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit without having any help. “I took their tests, and I passed them,” he told Channel 14.
But in his own memoir published last year, Netanyahu told a different story about how he managed to make it into the special forces unit thanks to a friend of his brother Yoni, who reached out and recruited him.
Netanyahu also used the opportunity to downplay his decision last week to bar Jews from visiting the Temple Mount during the last 10 days of Ramadan, pointing to the massive uptick in Jewish visitors during his time as prime minister.
He claimed that one million Jews visited the flashpoint during the last 20 years. However, the Bodkim fact-checking account found that the actual number is less than 400,000, citing figures from NGO Beyadenu, which advocates for Jewish access to the site.
Netanyahu also twice claimed that his government signed a trade agreement with Oman — a Gulf country with which Israel does not have formal diplomatic ties.
While Israel did recently finalize a free-trade agreement with the United Arab Emirates, no such deal has been signed with Oman.
Netanyahu used the Channel 14 appearance to assure his right-wing base that he remains committed to passing an overhaul of the judiciary, despite his decision late last month to pause the legislative effort in order to hold negotiations on the matter with the opposition.
The prime minister said he, along with the Likud representatives in the compromise negotiations led by President Isaac Herzog, are coordinating with Justice Minister Yariv Levin.
Levin is an architect of the original proposals that were introduced just over three months ago, sparking massive dissent across Israel and a wave of protest from governments abroad.
Asked if Levin, who was determined to push through his proposals in the Knesset in their original form, was on board with compromise negotiations, Netanyahu answered, “Yes.”
“I really appreciate him,” Netanyahu said of Levin. “I hear a lot of things that are said about him, but I think he is a real patriot. He is a noble soul. He is trying to pass an important reform.”
As they stand, the coalition’s proposals aim to drastically weaken the court’s ability to serve as a check on the executive, which already controls parliament, while also handing the government control over the appointment of practically all judges, including in the Supreme Court.
Critics say the plans will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will rein in a judiciary that they argue has overstepped its bounds.
Netanyahu insisted that the majority of Israelis want reform to rebalance the three branches of government, even if they didn’t agree completely on how it should be carried out.
“I think we need to exhaust the attempt to reach broad agreements on this issue,” even if consensus cannot be reached on 100 percent of the issues, Netanyahu said.
Pressed on a deadline or goal for the negotiations, Netanyahu declined to answer and instead encouraged everyone to be patient.
Netanyahu said he was not worried about the possibility that Moody’s Investors Service may downgrade Israel’s credit rating in response to investor jitters regarding the overhaul and political instability.
Netanyahu suggested that the economic hardship many Israelis are facing is not related to his government’s policies and not unique to the Jewish state.
“We are in a global economic crisis and a crisis in the tech industry. In January, there was a decrease in investments and Israel wasn’t spared from this trend either,” he said.
However, he boasted about having helped turn Israel into an economic powerhouse and insisted that “the economy will bounce back.”