Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election rivals on Tuesday evening tore into his security record Tuesday, after Gaza rockets were fired near a campaign event in Ashdod, forcing the premier to briefly leave the stage and take cover.
For many rivals, the scenes of Netanyahu being whisked away by a group of bodyguards provided a counterpoint to the image he has attempted to cultivate as Mr. Security, highlighting what critics say is his government’s failure to deal with attacks from Gaza terror groups.
“A red alert this evening in Ashdod while Netanyahu is on stage is a red flag for the citizens of Israel. Netanyahu is done and can leave the stage,” wrote Yair Lapid, co-leader of the Blue and White party.
At least two rockets were shot at Ashdod and nearby Ashkelon. Both were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
רגע הפינוי של ראש הממשלה נתניהו, אחרי שהופעלה אזעקה באשוד. pic.twitter.com/Y2KLOnrx8d
— almog boker (@bokeralmog) September 10, 2019
Blue and White head Benny Gantz took pride in the fact that his party member and fellow former general Gabi Ashkenazi remained on stage at a campaign event in Ashkelon as the alarm sounded, potentially putting himself in danger, while Netanyahu left the stage — as required by Home Front orders.
At an event in the Druze village of Julis in the north, Gantz said that while he was on his way there “they urged the prime minister to some bunker, while our Gabi Ashkenazi was on stage in Ashkelon and continued to talk as if nothing was happening.”
“We are not afraid, not of Hamas and not of Hezbollah. We are committed and we are here,” Gantz added, taking aim at the premier who earlier Tuesday pledged to annex substantial parts of the West Bank if elected. “Today we saw how the big words are replaced with zero action. Rather than issuing empty statements on the Jordan Valley, we intend to defend our sovereignty in the south. We won’t accept any violation of sovereignty. Not a missile, not a kite, not a rocket.”
Labor leader Amir Peretz said: “Nothing is new. Unfortunately, Netanyahu again disappears while neglecting residents of the south. Real leadership requires dealing with the root of the problem, rather than hiding under Iron Dome’s shield.”
Right-wing figures also slammed the premier.
Yamina party member Naftali Bennett called the incident a “national humiliation,” adding: “Hamas has stopped fearing Israel. Israel’s security will be reinstated by assassinating Hamas chiefs, not press conferences.”
“Today’s event proves that Netanyahu’s policy, which is an effective surrender to terror, has gone bankrupt,” Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman said in a statement, adding that he, too, had been in Ashdod for a campaign event when the sirens sounded.
The city of Ashkelon opened its public bomb shelters after the sirens went off as a precautionary measure in case rocket attacks persisted.
There was no immediate Israeli military response to the rocket fire.
Netanyahu has attempted to thread a line between keeping Gazan groups deterred from attacking Israel while also being wary not to push the Strip into a fresh war.
Critics have slammed him for reaching a series of tacit ceasefire agreements with the Hamas terror group.
Since the outbreak of protests on the Gaza border last year, Israel has intermittently taken a number of steps to stem outbreaks of violence from the coastal territory, such as closing border crossings, cutting fuel shipments, and reducing the permitted fishing area off the coast of the Strip. It has rolled back such moves following decreases in violence.
A deal was brokered several months ago by UN and Egyptian officials to end several violent flare-ups in recent months between Israel and Hamas, which have fought three devastating wars since 2008, and to help stabilize the territory and prevent a humanitarian collapse.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.