A day before the publication of a highly contentious report on the 2014 Gaza War, Israeli politicians got a head start in trying out their lines of attack and defensive strategies in anticipation of the fallout.
Leaked copies of the long-awaited state comptroller report indicate that it will criticize the army’s failures to prepare adequately for the threat of Hamas tunnels during Operation Protective Edge, and chastise the political leadership for improperly managing the war effort.
Speaking at his weekly Likud faction meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the claim that the military operation had been a failure, asserting instead it was nothing other than a resounding success.
“We hit Hamas with the hardest blow they have ever received. We killed around 1,000 Hamas terrorists, their senior officers. We took down the terror towers,” Netanyahu said. “We acted responsibly and with full coordination between the military and political echelons.”
Netanyahu also rejected the allegation that he had failed to update the Security Cabinet during the military operation and slammed other politicians for playing politics with Israel’s security.
“Unlike the comptroller’s report, I back the heads of the IDF and the Shin Bet,” Netanyahu said bitterly. “No cabinet in the history of the state was briefed more,” he added.
“And when you enter a cabinet meeting, you are supposed to leave your phone, petty politics and your personal ambitions at the door.”
Those comments appeared to be directed at Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett, who, during the operation and in the nearly two and a half years since it ended, has painted himself as the sole actor to recognize the threat of Hamas terror tunnels.
In the same light, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who served as Foreign Minster during the war, said Tuesday that all the recent criticism about the government’s conduct during the conflict stemmed solely from political concerns, and was harming Israel’s security.
Talk about the report “is a political discourse that does not contribute to security, and even the opposite — it harms Israel’s security,” Liberman told his Yisrael Beytenu faction.
“The IDF and defense establishment have been dealing with drawing lessons and rectifying what needs fixing from the day after the campaign. We have a strong army and the readiness of the army and reservists is at one of the highest levels in decades,” he said.
Responding to questions from reporters, Liberman declined to comment on the content of the report, saying he would do so after the embargo is lifted tomorrow afternoon.
On the attack, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said the report was an “indictment” against the political leadership during the military operation.
“This indictment doesn’t deal with receiving illicit gifts or with inappropriate personal behavior,” Herzog told his Zionist Union faction meeting, referring to the ongoing criminal investigations into the prime minister, “but rather with the failure of the country’s leadership, the disregard for human life, the abandonment of soldiers and officers and the citizens of the south.”
He added: “This indictment reveals how the prime minister and his security cabinet failed to understand the threats, to set a strategy to deal with them and to prepare the operation.”
According to Herzog, the only member of the security cabinet who acted appropriately during the war was Tzipi Livni, his number two in the Zionist Union faction, who sat next to him in the meeting. During the war, Livni served as justice minister.
Speaking to reporters earlier Tuesday, Livni said that the political brouhaha over the tunnel threat and the cabinet briefings is a distraction from the spectacular lack of strategy.
“We should have solved the problem [of Hamas’s terror tunnels] ahead of time. The fact that this wasn’t done by the time the operation began is a great failure,” Livni said.
“Israel doesn’t have a strategy vis-à-vis the Palestinians generally or Gaza specifically,” she cautioned. “We don’t have to reach an agreement with Hamas, but we need to rally the world against Hamas so Israel has the legitimacy to act against the tunnels in any future operation.”
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu of trying to cover up mistakes he had made rather than fix them.
“What is more worrying than the mistakes is the denial,” Lapid said at the start of the Yesh Atid faction meeting. “The attempt to deal with public perception and politics and media spin comes at the expense of national security. That’s not how to run a country.”
Asked if, as a senior minister and member of the security cabinet at the time, he also bears responsibility. Lapid said that “the buck stops” with the prime minister, but added he didn’t think Netanyahu need resign over the report.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.