Smotrich to oversee war economic council; says ‘we failed’ to protect south

Finance minister says he has ordered authorities to revisit priorities of budget allocations; Tax Authority offering small grants to those displaced internally

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks at a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on October 15, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks at a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on October 15, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich will head up a new council to oversee economic activity during the Israel-Gaza war, his ministry announced on Sunday along with the Prime Minister’s Office.

The statement said the committee would oversee all civilian economic matters. It is slated to hold its first meeting at noon on Monday in Jerusalem.

Based on a government decision, the committee is authorized to discuss war-related civilian issues including, but not limited to, the economic impact on private companies and the public sector, the rehabilitation of Gaza border communities and ensuring continued functionality of civilian services.

The successor to a panel originally created in June to tackle Israel’s soaring cost of living and chaired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Ministerial Committee for Social and Economic Affairs will now fall under Smotrich’s purview.

Ministers Gideon Sa’ar and Chili Tropper of National Unity, Yoav Kisch of Likud and Uriel Buso and Yaakov Margi of Shas will be granted seats on the committee, and Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton of National Unity will be an observer.

The new powers granted to the committee will be in effect until the end of the war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a security cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, October 7, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

At a press conference on Sunday, Smotrich said he has instructed government authorities to change the order of priorities in terms of budget allocation.

“All the budgets that have not yet been paid and committed are being examined, including the coalition budgets. Some of the funds have already been diverted,” said Smotrich.

The finance minister said he was pained by Israel’s enormous security failures leading up to and during the Hamas attack, adding: “I take responsibility for what has happened and what will happen. We have to admit with pain and with a bowed head — we failed. The country’s leadership and the security system failed to maintain the security of our people.”

Asked by a reporter if he might resign over such failures, Smotrich said: “There will be enough time for soul-searching, and perhaps score-settling.” He said among matters that would need looking into would be the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 2005 Gaza Disengagement.

Also on Sunday, Israel’s Tax Authority opened up applications for an estimated NIS 80 million ($20 million) of monetary assistance grants for residents of Gaza border communities who were evacuated or chose to leave in the period of time since Hamas launched its mass assault on October 7.

Israelis load their belongings onto a bus as they evacuate from the southern Israeli town of Sderot, Oct. 15, 2023 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Residents of communities within seven kilometers of the Gaza Strip border are eligible for grants, according to a cabinet decision.

The grants — NIS 1,000 ($250) per person and up to NIS 5,000 ($1,250) per family — are intended to assist evacuees with their initial expenses.

The grants are not considered compensation for property damage and will not count against future damage claims, a spokesperson for Smotrich explained.

“The State of Israel embraces the [Gaza border community] residents and is determined to provide them with any help they need,” Smotrich said in a statement. “No citizen will be left alone or buried under bureaucracy. All of them will be compensated up to the last shekel. This is the least the state can and should do for its citizens who have gone through the worst.”

Israeli soldiers around the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 15, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of Israelis have been displaced internally since the war began with Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught against southern Israel, in which 1,500-2,000 terrorists burst across the border and killed over 1,300 Israelis, most of them civilians.

The evacuation of Sderot — a city of some 30,000 on the Gaza border — is almost completed. Residents of communities less than 4 kilometers from the Gaza border have also been evacuated, and evacuations are ongoing in communities 4-7 kilometers from the Gaza border.

Along the northern border, many residents have also chosen to leave towns that have come under rocket and mortar fire from both Syria and Lebanon. The local council of Metula, near the border with Lebanon, advised its close to 2,000 residents to relocate.

The IDF said Sunday that it was “isolating the area” up to 4 kilometers from the Lebanon border, instructing non-residents not to enter, and telling any residents still living in communities up to 2 kilometers from the Lebanon border to remain close to bomb shelters until further notice.

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