The upper echelon of Israel’s right-wing government appears to be rife with dissension over what to do about Hamas’ underground tunnels in the Gaza Strip.
According to Channel 2, Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the religious Zionist Bayit Yehudi party implored his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to authorize a preemptive military operation against the Palestinian Islamist movement, which is making efforts to rehabilitate its network of underground passageways.
Bennett, who reportedly made the suggestion during a recent cabinet meeting, was rebuffed by both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Aides to Ya’alon told Israel Radio on Tuesday that Bennett was acting “childishly” by “being prepared to drag the country to war for cynical, political purposes.”
A source closed to Ya’alon told Israel Radio that “it would behoove cabinet ministers to refrain from making childish, irresponsible statements.”
“This trend of ministers who are willing to drag the country into war for political, cynical gain is endangering Israel’s national security,” the source said.
The Channel 2 report noted that Bennett's proposition was reminiscent of opposition leader Isaac Herzog's call last week to to stop hesitating and provide a serious and public response to the matter.
Ya'alon, who last week asserted that no Gazan attack tunnels have so far reached Israeli territory, blasted Herzog for accusing the government of inaction on the rebuilding by Palestinian terrorists of infiltration tunnels - the likes of which the IDF destroyed in 2014's Operation Protective Edge.
The opposing positions on the tunnel issue reflect an ongoing controversy among Israeli leaders on the desired time line on operating against the Hamas infrastructure, the report added.
Channel 2 noted that Bennett's office refused to comment on the report.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's Office said it does not comment on cabinet discussions in general and on the IDF's operational plans in particular.
While the premier has refrained from ordering imminent action, he has warned that Israel will respond more forcefully than it did during the 2014 war against Hamas if it is attacked from the Gaza Strip’s terror tunnels.
“I hope we do not need to do this, but our defensive and offensive capabilities are developing rapidly, and I do not suggest that anyone test us,” Netanyahu said last Sunday.
On Thursday, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira delivered a draft report to Netanyahu and top defense officials that charged there were “grave deficiencies” in preparedness for the Hamas attack-tunnel threat that presaged the 2014 Gaza war.
The criticism of how the issue was handled is part of a wider review of war-making decisions before and during Operation Protective Edge. The review started shortly after the 50-day conflict ended with a cease-fire in September 2014.
Since July 2014, the IDF has been accused of being unprepared for the scope of the tunnel threat.
The report followed the collapse of a Hamas attack tunnel in Gaza Zeitoun area on Wednesday, the third such incident in the past few weeks.
In January, Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh said that the Palestinian terrorist group will never stop digging tunnels and upgrading rockets in preparation for any possible confrontation with Israel.