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Officials: Security cabinet was briefed 13 times on Hamas tunnels

Sources close to Netanyahu contest State Comptroller’s draft report on Gaza war, which is said to claim ministers were left in dark in run-up to conflict

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows Deputy Foreign Minister of Japan maps of terror tunnels from Gaza to Israel, during his visit to Israel on July 24, 2014. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows Deputy Foreign Minister of Japan maps of terror tunnels from Gaza to Israel, during his visit to Israel on July 24, 2014. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The cabinet was repeatedly briefed on the severity of the threat posed by Hamas’s cross border attack tunnels ahead of the 2014 Gaza war, sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday, amid reports that the State Comptroller’s revised report on the 50-day conflict lambastes Israel’s senior echelon for failing to adequately prepare for the danger.

“The full severity of the tunnel threat was presented at 13 separate cabinet meetings. The prime minister even designated it as one of the four strategic threats against Israel, including nuclear, missiles and cyber threats,” an unnamed official said.

“Due to this, it cannot be seriously stated that the full severity of the threats was not presented to the cabinet,” he said.

On Thursday, Channel 2 reported that a new draft of State Comptroller Yosef Shapira’s report on the government’s handling of the 2014 Gaza war between Israel and Hamas intensifies its criticism of Netanyahu and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon while toning down its disapproval of the Israel Defense Force’s conduct.

The latest version of what has been described as a scathing indictment of the government’s failure to appropriately prepare for the Hamas tunnel threat is seemingly a reversal of previous drafts, in which the IDF received the lion’s share of the blame for various operational failings, though Netanyahu and Ya’alon were also criticized.

Entrance to a Hamas terror tunnel discovered by the IDF running under the Gaza border into Israel on May 5, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Entrance to a Hamas terror tunnel discovered by the IDF running under the Gaza border into Israel on May 5, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

A number of tunnels were used by Hamas fighters to infiltrate Israel and carry out deadly attacks on troops during the Gaza Strip conflict in the summer of 2014. During that campaign, dubbed in Israel “Operation Protective Edge,” Israeli forces discovered and destroyed at least 34 tunnels, many of them leading into Israeli territory.

Shapira’s report found that despite Netanyahu’s claims to the contrary, the prime minister and Ya’alon did not properly inform the high-level security cabinet of the extent of the tunnel threat, Channel 2 said. The cabinet was only notified of the dangers one week before the start of the war, after then-economy minister Naftali Bennett presented the ministers with the information and offered possible solutions to disarm the underground network, the report said, according to Channel 2.

Netanyahu has repeatedly denied that cabinet members were not apprised of the threats but two of his chief political rivals, Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, both of whom were cabinet members during the war, have repeatedly claimed that the cabinet was not properly updated on the issues.

According to the Ha’aretz newspaper, Ya’alon is more fiercely rebuked by the ombudsman than the prime minister in the new draft. The final version is expected in December, according to the daily.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (left) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) in December 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (left) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) in December 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In an unusual move, Netanyahu requested an additional meeting with the State Comptroller in October in order to present him with information that would show the cabinet was informed. But the latest draft appeared to indicate that Shapira remained unconvinced by Netanyahu’s testimony.

Channel 2 also reported that the latest version of the report softened its criticism of the Israel Defense Force, as the army’s shortcomings are no longer described as “a grave failing.”

Then-head of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi attends a Knesset committee meeting on February 25, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Then-head of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi attends a Knesset committee meeting on February 25, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Shapira also toned down the criticism of the Military Intelligence Directorate’s failure to understand the extent of the tunnels. In previous reports, then Military Intelligence Director Aviv Kochavi was singled out in the report for his conduct during and leading up to the war. On November 3, Kochavi was appointed to be the next IDF deputy chief of staff.

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