Preempting biting report, PM says he ran 2014 war ‘responsibly’
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Preempting biting report, PM says he ran 2014 war ‘responsibly’

Netanyahu hits back at claims he failed to consult with security cabinet, underestimated Gaza cross-border tunnel threat

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with IDF chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz (standing directly behind him) and then-defense minister Moshe Ya'alon (seated right), monitoring IDF ground operations in Gaza during a meeting at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2014. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with IDF chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz (standing directly behind him) and then-defense minister Moshe Ya'alon (seated right), monitoring IDF ground operations in Gaza during a meeting at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2014. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

Preempting the impending release of a State Comptroller report said to be fiercely critical of Israel’s political and military command during the 2014 Gaza war, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday rejected claims that he failed to properly prepare before fighting broke out that summer.

“I, as prime minister, together with the defense minister and the IDF chief of staff, managed this operation responsibly and in a firmly, rationally and assertive manner,” Netanyahu told a conference of the Federation of Local Authorities.

According to sources familiar with its contents, the report heaps criticism on Netanyahu and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon for failing to inform the security cabinet of the extent of the threat emanating from Hamas’s cross-border tunnels.

Rebuffing statements by Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett who, as a member of the security cabinet during the war, said the prime minister did not present the tunnel threat to the forum, Netanyahu insisted he had provided appropriate information and military assessments.

Naftali Bennett on the Israel-Gaza Border, on the second day of Operation Protective Edge, July 9, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Naftali Bennett on the Israel-Gaza Border, on the second day of Operation Protective Edge, July 9, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I presented [the tunnel threat] as one of four strategic threats that endangers Israel,” he said, charging that people were leaking certain pieces of information from the report in order to great a “false impression” of his leadership.

According to Netanyahu, the “positive results” of the 50-day war prove he led the campaign appropriately.

“The results since the war speak for themselves,” he said. “The current IDF chief of staff [Gadi Eisenkot] has said that the Gaza border hasn’t been this quiet since the Six Days War. Hamas suffered a devastating blow. The Gaza border communities are flourishing.”

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz briefs Israeli cabinet ministers during the conflict with Gaza, July 18, 2014 (Photo by Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz briefs Israeli cabinet ministers during the conflict with Gaza, July 18, 2014 (Photo by Flash90)

But coalition officials, especially those close to Netanyahu, have tried to prevent a vote in the Knesset State Control Committee’s subcommittee on classified materials to permit the publication of the report.

Earlier Tuesday, committee chair MK Karin Elharar of the Yesh Atid party said she had pushed off a decision on releasing to the public parts of the report due to security considerations that came up as the panel reviewed the materials intended for publication.

The committee will make a final decision on releasing the report at its next meeting on Sunday, she said.

It also shows bitter infighting among members of the cabinet, especially Ya’alon and Bennett, the then-economy minister, over the conduct of the war in Gaza, also known as Operation Protective Edge.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (center), during the war in Gaza, summer 2014 (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (center), during the war in Gaza, summer 2014 (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)

If eventually released, the document would give Israelis a rare open look at the discussions of one of the most powerful and secretive state institutions.

Chaired by the prime minister, the security cabinet — formally titled the Ministerial Committee for National Security — is currently composed of 10 ministers, including the heads of most coalition parties, and is empowered by law to oversee the conduct of both war and peace negotiations.

File. IDF Artillery Corps soldiers operate a howitzer on the border with Gaza, during Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014. The army fired roughly 34,000 artillery shells into Gaza during the 50-day operation (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
File. IDF Artillery Corps soldiers operate a howitzer on the border with Gaza, during Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014. The army fired roughly 34,000 artillery shells into Gaza during the 50-day operation (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Some members of the security cabinet during Protective Edge have long complained that Netanyahu would not allow serious consultations and decisions in the forum. Part of the criticism, especially by Bennett, was already voiced during the war itself, when he took to visiting frontline army units and discussing the war’s progress with officers in the field.

Bennett, who has since moved on to the position of education minister, maintains that he became aware of the urgency of dealing with cross-border tunnels — an issue that became the war’s main goal in its final weeks — outside the confines of cabinet discussions, including during his conversations with IDF officers. Bennett has repeatedly claimed and that the threat posed by the tunnels was not properly discussed or understood in the security cabinet’s meetings.

Netanyahu and Ya’alon have in the past rejected Bennett’s claims, and criticized as “populist” his public excoriation of the army’s strategies while fighting was still underway in Gaza.

— Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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