Netanyahu’s military secretary reprimanded for outpost removal confusion

Avi Blot receives official censure from IDF chief of staff for failing to convey government decision to call off eviction

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) sits next to military secretary Avi Blot during a cabinet meeting on August 16, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) sits next to military secretary Avi Blot during a cabinet meeting on August 16, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot on Friday reprimanded the military secretary to the prime minister for failing to convey the government’s decision to call off the eviction of an illegal West Bank outpost amid violent clashes on Thursday.

Opposition lawmakers accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of attempting to divert blame for the removal of the illegally erected buildings from the Amona outpost by having his military secretary take responsibility for the issue.

Netanyahu was also lambasted by right-wing lawmakers for the Amona eviction. Shortly after the criticisms began, anonymously sourced reports emerged in Israeli media outlets claiming that his military secretary, Brig. Gen. Avi Blot, had been instructed to call off the eviction but failed to relay the order in time.

On Friday, the military said Eisenkot spoke with Blot about the allegations.

“The chief of staff clarified to Brig. Gen. Blot that he was mistaken in how he handled the incident and was expected to behave more professionally. In light of this, [Eisenkot] decided to officially reprimand him,” the army said in a statement.

“The officer was mistaken in that he did not bring the prime minister’s instruction in real time to the relevant figures in the IDF. The officer acknowledged his mistake,” the military said.

Members of the Israeli security forces remove a caravan that settlers had brought to the former outpost of Amona on January 3, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Politicians from the left and the right accused Netanyahu of shoving Blot under the bus.

“The shameful attempt by the prime minister to shift blame for the evacuation of Amona to his military secretary… is no less than despicable,” wrote former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, who heads the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, on Facebook.

“One cannot see this but as a shirking of responsibility and desperate attempt to find a scapegoat,” he added.

Liberman noted that Blot grew up in a settlement, studied at a pre-army academy in the West Bank and was the commander of the Judea Brigade stationed in the Hebron area, which he said “eliminate any possibility of blaming him for the failure” of the Amona evacuation.

Liberman’s criticism of Netanyahu was echoed by Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party.

“He is prime minister and defense minister and he ordered the evacuation of Amona,” Lapid wrote on Twitter about Netanyahu.

“His effort to evade responsibility at the expense of the military secretary is typical Netanyahu, but it is shameless and even in his terms,” Lapid added.

MK Tamar Zandberg, head of the left-wing Meretz party, said the prime minister was “terrified of hilltop youth militias and was willing to sacrifice his military secretary in order to appease them.”

Border Police clear several hundred settler youths who had crammed into a pair of illegally placed mobile homes on the Amona outpost on January 3, 2018. (Binyamin Regional Council)

The reports that Blot was responsible for failing to stop the violent evacuation at Amona have been met with skepticism by settler leaders, who questioned whether Netanyahu had actually ordered the evacuation called off, or was attempting to temper criticism against him from the right.

The evacuation Thursday morning saw dozens injured as far-right youth clashed with security forces who arrived early Thursday morning to carry out a Jerusalem District Court order to remove the caravans, installed on the site of a previously evacuated outpost. It was met by angry denunciations from the right and settler leaders, some of whom pointed fingers at Netanyahu.

It was unclear why the military would not have been able to reverse course even if troops were on their way to the outpost. The reports, which were unsourced, also did not say why Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, had decided Wednesday night that the caravans did not need to be removed after all.

According to Hadashot news, which first reported the story, Netanyahu had ordered Eisenkot to summon Blot over the apparent snafu.

IDF forces seen at the illegal outpost of Amona in the West Bank on January 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Late Wednesday night, some 300 settler youths converged on the pair of mobile homes illegally installed on the West Bank hilltop where the Amona outpost once stood.

Border Police officers who carried out the evacuation said the settlers hurled stones, burned tires and thew iron bars at them. By the completion of the three-hour evacuation, 23 officers had been injured, primarily from stones hurled by the far-right activists. One officer was stabbed in the hand by a sharp object brandished by one of the teen protesters. Seven rioters were arrested and later released.

For their part, the young demonstrators claimed the border cops used excessive force in clearing the hilltop. Footage from the evacuation shows one officer kneeing a non-resisting teen in the groin outside one of the mobile homes as well as the indiscriminate spraying of teargas on the demonstrators both inside and outside the caravans.

In total, four teens were injured in the clashes, though Border Police said one of the boys was wounded after being hit by a stone thrown by one of his peers.

All 27 of the injured were released from the hospital after having received treatment for minor injuries.

Settlers install a pair of caravans on the hilltop where the illegal Amona outpost once stood, on December 13, 2018. (Bezalel Smotrich/Twitter)

The two mobile homes were installed overnight on December 14 by a number of settler leaders, who claimed that the land on which they were placed had been legally purchased from the original Palestinian landowners.

However, they did not coordinate the installation with the state bodies and lacked the permits required to make such a move. The Haaretz daily reported Wednesday that there were considerable legal problems with the alleged purchase and that the settlers had not received permission from all of the owners of the various plots they claimed to have bought.

The community was established in 1995 and demolished in February 2017 after the High Court of Justice ruled that the settlement had been built on private Palestinian land. Last March, its evacuees moved into Amichai, the first newly constructed West Bank settlement in over 25 years. The community is located just east of the Shiloh settlement in the central West Bank.

Times of Israel staff Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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