PM says he didn’t convene cabinet during latest Gaza flareup for fear of leaks

PM says he didn’t convene cabinet during latest Gaza flareup for fear of leaks

Continuing media blitz ahead of elections, Netanyahu tells Army Radio that he will not place far-right candidate Itamar Ben Gvir on Knesset panel that appoints judges

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 6, 2019. (Alex Kolomoisky/Yedioth Ahronoth/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 6, 2019. (Alex Kolomoisky/Yedioth Ahronoth/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he did not convene a security cabinet meeting during last month’s flareup with Hamas because he was concerned that politically motivated participants would leak contents of the high-level discussions to the press.

Netanyahu was pressed on the matter by Army Radio during his latest stop on a last-minute media blitz before Tuesday’s elections.

“What do you want, for Hamas to know what we are going to do?” he retorted. “Unfortunately, there has been some irresponsible behavior by some of (my coalition partners). They’re ready to leak everything. I will not allow that to happen that.”

Despite asserting that he wanted to continue serving with the right-wing ministers that he accused of leaking sensitive security information, Netanyahu said that convening the security cabinet just several weeks before the election would have given Hamas the upper hand.

“I followed the policy of the security cabinet (on Gaza). When I act according to that policy and do not deviate from it, there is no need to convene the cabinet, just to allow for leaks,” he added, suggesting that the apparent restraint demonstrated by Israel in response to rockets last month toward Tel Aviv was part of the government’s longstanding policy.

On March 31, Education Minister Naftali Bennett sent a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in which he complained that Netanyahu — who is also defense minister — was excluding other members of the high-level panel from decisions on Gaza, where violence had flared up earlier that month and border tensions remain taut.

Israeli soldiers deploy on the Israel-Gaza border during a Palestinian protest, March 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Shortly after Bennett’s request — rejected by Mandelblit — Netanyahu canceled a discussion of the top security body scheduled for later that week.

Bennett, who heads the recently founded New Right party, which is running in the upcoming April 9 Knesset elections, has harshly criticized Netanyahu’s Gaza policy as too soft, presented a policy plan that he claimed would “open the gates of hell” on Hamas, and demanded the post of defense minister in the next government.

He has cited recent events, including a rocket launched at Tel Aviv; one that destroyed a house in the Sharon region and wounded seven people; the round of violence that followed; and a mass protest Saturday on the Gaza border marking a year since the start of the so-called March of Return protests. On the governmental level, Netanyahu has been single-handedly overseeing Israel’s response.

Bennett mentioned that “according to media reports, Israel’s government is conducting advanced negotiations to promote a ceasefire agreement with Hamas,” which he similarly charged was “unreasonable” in that it was only being discussed by the prime minister and the defense establishment, without input from members of the security cabinet.

Netanyahu told Army Radio on Sunday that he did not know if a long-term truce with Hamas was brewing. However, the premier defended the government’s policy vis a vis Gaza, while asserting that all options remain on the table.

“If there is no choice, we will embark on a broad war, but this is the last option,” he said. “It is impossible to uproot radical Islam in the Gaza Strip just as it is impossible to uproot Iran. Conquering Gaza would cost us a very heavy price of blood.”

Far-right candidate will not appoint judges, PM says

Netanyahu was also asked if he would appoint Itamar Ben Gvir, the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction’s representative on the Union of Right-Wing Parties’ list, to the Knesset panel for the appointment of judges.

The premier quickly dismissed the possibility.

“I did not commit to this. This is nonsense,” Netanyahu said.

Ben Gvir released a filmed response within minutes of the prime minister’s remarks, saying “Netanyahu suddenly decided to jump to the left. But the truth is I’m not bothered.”

Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir speaks at a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Ben Gvir said that if the URWP — an alliance of national-religious parties brokered by Netanyahu — wins enough seats on Tuesday, the premier will have no choice but to appoint him to the panel.

“So many times he’s made promises,” Ben Gvir said, mocking Netanyahu’s past pre-election vows.

In audio of a closed meeting of URWP activists that was leaked to Channel 12 last month, party no. 2 MK Betzalel Smotrich is heard promising that the list will do whatever it takes to ensure that Ben Gvir gets into parliament, and that Netanyahu will help because of the far-right faction’s agreement with the Likud leader.

URWP is an alliance of three far-right parties. Two of them, Jewish Home and National Union, represent the Hardal, or nationalist Orthodox, community. The third and most controversial component, Otzma Yehudit, or “Jewish Power,” is made up of former disciples of the late extremist rabbi, Meir Kahane.

Ben Gvir, the most senior remaining Otzma Yehudit member on the URWP list — the High Court of Justice disqualified Otzma leader Michael Ben Ari’s candidacy over incitement to racism — is a well-known attorney who defends and advocates for Jewish terror suspects. A photograph of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who shot dead 29 Muslim worshipers at prayer in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994, hangs on his living room wall.

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