Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu traded sharp barbs at Sunday’s cabinet meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who over the weekend slammed what he said was Israel’s tepid response to the rocket fire from Gaza.
Following days of rockets on the South and riots in Jerusalem and among segments of the Israeli-Arab population, Netanyahu opened the weekly cabinet meeting saying on camera what was needed now was to act “with composure and responsibly, and not with “militancy or rashness.”
“We are working on several fronts at the same time” he said. “Last night we acted against numerous Hamas targets in Gaza, and the objective of all those actions is to return the quiet and security to the citizens of the South. Experience proves that at such times we must act responsibly and with equanimity, not hastily. We will do whatever is necessary to restore quiet and security to the South.”
When the press was ushered out of the meeting, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, who lives in Sderot, criticized Liberman for coming to his city on Friday and slamming the government.
“The central objective of the government is to stop the firing on the communities in the South, but the argument over the way to do this should not seep out of the cabinet,” he said. He added that certain ministers – a reference to Liberman and Bennett – were showing a lack of responsibility and sowing frustration and a lack of confidence in the security establishment Netanyahu agreed, and told the ministers, without singling out Liberman or Bennett, that this was a “sensitive moment,” and that they all share collective responsibility.
According to one official in the meeting, he told them that they were not “commentators,” and if they had something to say, they should air it in the “proper forum.”
“There is no need to engage in populism,” Netanyahu said. “There are ministers who are taking advantage of the situation to attack me and the government. This is irresponsible and damaging.”
Liberman then sharply criticized Netanyahu, saying he was the last one who could make these comments, reminding him he called a press conference after the funerals of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah in which he declaimed slogans about going after Hamas – slogans Liberman said were not backed up.
Alluding to the fact Liberman missed last Sunday’s security cabinet meeting, and is often absent from security cabinet meetings, Netanyahu retorted he should first come to those meetings, and then only speak about the policies in the press. Lieberman’s response: he was in Berlin on Sunday on state business, and Netanyahu should not give him grades.
At the opening of the meeting, Netanyahu said Israeli- Arab rioters cannot on the one hand throw petrol bombs and rocks, destroy property and call for the destruction of the state, and on the other hand enjoy the benefits of child allowance and National Security Insurance payments.
He again called on the Israeli- Arab leadership to “show responsibility, stand up in the face of the rioting in order to restore quiet.”
“Those who do not respect the law, will be arrested and severely punished,” he said, adding that Israel will deal with a “heavy hand” against lawbreakers and inciters “from any side.”
“There is no room in Israel for throwing rocks at police, throwing petrol bombs, blocking roads, destroying property or inciting against the very existence of the State of Israel,” he said.
Even as he counseled “composure” and not acting “rashly,” Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz added his voice to other ministers publicly calling on the government to take much tougher action in Gaza.
“I am looking at this strategically,” Steinitz told reporters on his way into the cabinet meeting. “What we need to achieve is not only deterrence. I’m talking about taking control of Gaza, cleaning out the stables in Gaza and leaving Gaza.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, on the other hand, called on his fellow ministers to not overdo their rhetoric, and to not act or talk like “talkbackers.”
“We need to lower the flames, not increase them,” he said.