Ya’alon, Gantz go on offensive ahead of Gaza war report
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Ya’alon, Gantz go on offensive ahead of Gaza war report

Former army chief says intel during the 2014 operation was excellent; ousted defense minister lashes out at Naftali Bennett

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, center, and then-defense minister Moshe Ya'alon, right, in southern Israel on July 21, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, center, and then-defense minister Moshe Ya'alon, right, in southern Israel on July 21, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and former army chief Benny Gantz came out swinging ahead of the publication of an apparently critical report on the 2014 Gaza war, defending the actions of the military and its intelligence service.

“In the next week, you’re going to hear a lot about Protective Edge,” Ya’alon wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday night, using the Israeli name for the operation. “They’ll say that we didn’t know, that we didn’t tell them, that we didn’t report to them. And the biggest lie of all? That we weren’t prepared and we lost. That’s nonsense.”

On Tuesday, the long-awaited state comptroller report is due to be published. Leaked copies of the text show that it will likely criticize the army’s failures to prepare adequately for the threat of Hamas tunnels, and chastise the political leadership for improperly managing the war effort.

Taking a dig at Education Minister Naftali Bennett, whom he has repeatedly accused of “playing politics” about the Gaza war, Ya’alon added, “There are those who leak, and those who fight.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett attends a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett attends a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Along with his Facebook post, the former defense minister also released a video that showed the threats made by Hamas leaders followed by statistics on Israeli accomplishments, e.g., the number of rocket launchers destroyed, Hamas fighters killed and tunnels blown up.

Gantz, the former IDF chief, stood up for Military Intelligence and its chief at the time of the war, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, on Friday, at a conference for veterans of “Havatzalot,” an elite intelligence program.

“During Protective Edge, there was intelligence that was excellent, terrific, accessible, but not always perfect. I am ready to go to the next campaign with the same intelligence that we had in the last one,” Gantz said, according to a report Sunday in the the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

“Aviv Kochavi is the best Military Intelligence chief that the IDF has had in the past 40 years. All the criticism that is voiced in the [comptroller] report about this — I don’t accept it,” he said.

IDF infantrymen congregating around a tunnel entrance in Gaza on July 24, 2014. (Courtesy IDF Flickr)
IDF infantrymen congregating around a tunnel entrance in Gaza on July 24, 2014. (Courtesy IDF Flickr)

Both during the operation and in the nearly two and a half years since it ended, Bennett has painted himself as the sole actor to recognize the threat of Hamas terror tunnels. Leaked transcripts from cabinet meetings during the war showed Bennett calling for the military to be more aggressive, while Gantz and Ya’alon advocated a more restrained course of cation.

Israel’s 50-day campaign against Hamas in Gaza began as a predominantly aerial campaign in response to repeated rocket attacks from the Strip, similar to a 2012 operation known in Israel as Pillar of Defense. But after Hamas made use of its tunnel network, the focus shifted to tackling that subterranean threat.

An Israeli Apache helicopter shoots a missile over the Gaza Strip on July 9, 2014, the second day of Operation Protective Edge. (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)
An Israeli Apache helicopter shoots a missile over the Gaza Strip on July 9, 2014, the second day of Operation Protective Edge. (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

During the initial phase of airstrikes and artillery shellings, Gantz was opposed to bringing ground troops into Gaza, seeing the tunnels as a “reasonable risk,” according to the leaked transcripts, as opposed to Bennett, who called for a large-scale campaign from the outset.

Gantz addressed that, too, in his speech at the conference. “It was possible to conquer Gaza. At no point in time were we asked [to do so], and we never recommended [it],” Yedioth quoted him as saying.

“The result was to strike Hamas hard, to thwart the tunnels, to create a state of deterrence — and Hamas has stayed quiet. Forget what people are saying now. That’s what the politicians said and that’s what we recommended and that’s what we got,” Gantz said, in his own apparent reference to Bennett.

“The truth is that no one has any interest in ruling Gaza.”

Housing Minister Yoav Galant arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 18, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem)
Housing Minister Yoav Galant arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 18, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem)

On Sunday morning, Minister of Construction and Housing Yoav Galant (Kulanu) responded to the claims made by Gantz and Ya’alon, accusing them of trying to turn failures into victories.

“The preparations for Operation Protective Edge by IDF chief of staff Gantz and defense minister Ya’alon were negligent and a failure. It is grave that they were trying to present it as a victory and an accomplishment,” he said at a conference held by the financial Globes newspaper.

Ahead of his speech, Galant also tweeted condemnations of Gantz and Ya’alon, who he said “failed” during the war and displayed “hesitancy in using force. Now they are hiding under the apron of the cabinet.”

Before entering politics, Galant served as a general in the IDF and was on track to become chief of staff in 2010, but ultimately lost out to Gantz after he became embroiled in a scandal involving illegal construction on his house. The future housing minister was later partially cleared of the charges.

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