PM planned ‘extraordinary’ Gaza op after speech interrupted by rockets — report
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PM planned ‘extraordinary’ Gaza op after speech interrupted by rockets — report

Newspaper says mooted retaliation for Ashdod attack was opposed by some security chiefs; Netanyahu shelved idea after attorney general told him cabinet approval was needed

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) is seen with security chiefs at the IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters on September 10, 2019, hours after a rocket attack on Ashdod forced him to run for shelter during a campaign rally (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) is seen with security chiefs at the IDF's Tel Aviv headquarters on September 10, 2019, hours after a rocket attack on Ashdod forced him to run for shelter during a campaign rally (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned a large offensive in Gaza after rockets were fired near an Ashdod rally where he was speaking last week, but he scotched the plan after the attorney general advised him he would need to get cabinet approval, according to a report Monday.

The rocket attacks on Ashdod and Ashkelon Tuesday briefly forced Netanyahu from the stage, in an incident that drew widespread ridicule from electoral rivals.

Hours after the attack from the Gaza Strip, likely by the Islamic Jihad terror group, Netanyahu convened the heads of the security establishment including IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi and Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen.

According to Haaretz, Netanyahu, who is also the defense minister, sought an “extraordinary” and “far-reaching” military reaction to the rocket — the nature of which was not disclosed — but several security officials were hesitant to take such action.

It said Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed the prime minister that, based on a 2018 amendment to Basic Law: The Government, the prime minister was required to consult the cabinet on any decision on a major military operation that had a likelihood of leading the country to war.

The requirement reportedly gave the prime minister pause, and he eventually retreated from his demand for a harsh response, the report said. The IDF eventually carried out some 15 airstrikes in Gaza in response to the rockets, slightly more intense than its usual responses to rocket attacks.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony for former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, at the Justice Ministry offices in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

In the days since the Ashdod attack Netanyahu has warned that war with terror groups in the Gaza Strip could break out “at any moment,” including before Tuesday’s election.

The rocket launched at Ashdod caught Netanyahu in the middle of a campaign rally in the city. He was whisked off the stage by his bodyguards to take shelter.

For many of his rivals, the scenes of Netanyahu being forced to take shelter from rockets provided a counterpoint to the image he has attempted to cultivate as “Mr. Security,” highlighting what they say is his government’s failure to deal with ongoing attacks from Gaza terror groups.

Blue and White touted the fact the the party’s no. 4, MK Gabi Ashkenazi, refused to leave the stage at a campaign event in Ashkelon as the alarm sounded, while Netanyahu was rushed to shelter. Likud retorted that Netanyahu’s actions comported with Home Front orders, while Ashkenazi potentially put himself and those around him in danger.

Hamas gloated over the rocket attack, with official Mahmoud al-Zahar saying “everyone saw Netanyahu fleeing because of the resistance’s strikes” and that the incident had “shaken Israel’s image.”

On the right, Yamina party member Naftali Bennett called the incident a “national humiliation,” while Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman said it underlined that Netanyahu’s Gaza policy was bankrupt.

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