Ministers point fingers over leaks from security cabinet

Accusations abound after TV report on testy exchange between Bennett and IDF chief, with opposition heads claiming PM leaked during 2014 Gaza war

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Political leaders traded accusations of leaking to the media on Monday, with opposition chiefs charging that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released information from meetings of the powerful security cabinet during the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip.

The accusations came amid an uproar by government ministers over the leaking of an exchange between Education Minister Naftali Bennett and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a recent security cabinet meeting.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu announced half an hour ago that he doesn’t believe in leaks. You [Netanyahu] leaked from the cabinet in which I sat,” said Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid from the Knesset podium.

“Come, look [me] in the eyes from here, from this podium and tell me this isn’t true. I know and you know it is true. You leaked from the cabinet in which I sat during a military operation,” charged Lapid, who was finance minister and a member of the security cabinet during the 2014 war against Hamas.

“And you are leaking from the cabinet today as Israeli citizens are under threat,” he added, referring to the recent violence at the Gaza border.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks from the Knesset plenum on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Lapid’s broadside came after Netanyahu appeared to chide the Yesh Atid leader during a faction meeting of his Likud party, saying “it is impossible to manage a cabinet with tweets and leaks,” referring to Lapid’s penchant for social media.

Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay also took aim at Netanyahu over the recent leaks and said right-wing showboating from government ministers is leading the country to an “unnecessary war” with Hamas.

“The leaks from the cabinet in recent days are a repeat of 2014 when we were led to a war that Netanyahu didn’t know how to manage,” Gabbay said of the war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

Gabbay charged that the leaks came from ministers “trying to win right-wing voters from each other.”

Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on July 16, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

He said that Netanyahu, Defense Minister and Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett were “putting an internal battle over leadership of the right” ahead of the interests of the country.

While refraining from assigning blame to anyone, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon lamented the leaks and said he would support efforts to prevent them.

The finger-pointing over security cabinet leaks came after Hadashot TV news reported Sunday on a clash between Bennett and Eisenkot over the response to the launching of incendiary devices from Gaza toward Israel. The report said Eisenkot pushed back against Bennett’s call to directly target Palestinians flying burning kites and balloons, saying it would be immoral to use lethal fire against them.

Joining the fray, Liberman earlier Monday decried to the Ynet news site what he called an attempt “to score points at the expense of the chief of staff,” though he did not mention Bennett by name.

Bennett’s Jewish Home party slammed Liberman as “weak, embarrassed and transparent” in response.

The coalition party also said Bennett asked Netanyahu to subject ministers to a polygraph test over the leaks.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett are seen at the Knesset on May 11, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amid the exchange between ministers, Bennett tried to play down any  tension with Eisenkot, calling the IDF chief of staff “excellent.”

Bennett indicated, however, that he would not back down regarding the military’s response to the airborne arson attacks.

“The chief of staff is meant to carry out [commands], he isn’t a mediator,” Bennett told Hadashot news.

The government and military have come under intense domestic pressure to step up its response to stymie the flaming balloons and kites, which has mostly consisted of firing warning shots at cells launching the devices. Some southern residents have adopted the slogan “treat kites as you would rockets.”

The kites and balloons, some of which are booby-trapped with explosives, have wreaked havoc in the Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip since the phenomenon began in April, sparking fires that have scorched over 7,000 acres of land and caused millions of shekels in damage.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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