Accusations that Economy Minister Naftali Bennett caused a massacre of Lebanese civilians in 1996, as a company commander in the army, are a response to his criticism of probes against IDF soldiers in Operation Protective Edge, the Bayit Yehudi leader posited on Tuesday.
Speaking at the Foreign Trade Conference in Tel Aviv, Bennett recounted that, last week, he spoke out against the criminal investigation of Givati Brigade soldiers for enacting the Hannibal Protocol.
It is thought to involve massive use force against a wide area in which the IDF believes the enemy has a captured soldier, in this case Sec.-Lt. Hadar Goldin, during Operation Protective Edge.
“I made it clear: Heroism should not be investigated.
Givati fighters deserve medals, not lawyers,” Bennett said.
Then, on Friday, tabloid Yediot Aharonot published an article by Yigal Sarna suggesting that, as an officer in the Maglan commando unit, Bennett’s actions may have led to the death of 102 Lebanese civilians during Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996.
Sarna described Bennett as demonstrating poor judgment, ignoring orders and changing operational plans without coordinating with his superiors. The article implied that, in addition to the loss of life, Bennett’s behavior in the field caused grave damage to Israel’s image.
The claims went viral online, including on Arab and Palestinian news sites and social media.
“After I expressed my stance, a coordinated and orchestrated campaign against me began, stating that I am supposedly responsible as a commander for the massacre in Kafr Kana 20 years ago,” he stated. “Twenty years ago, in spring 1996, I did go to Lebanon to defend residents of the North and for eight days, together with dozens of fighters, we did exactly that.”
Bennett declared: “I will not apologize for that. I am proud of it.”
The Bayit Yehudi leader continued in his call to stop investigating Givati soldiers.
“No problem – keep attacking me for what I did in Maglan. You can go even further back to when I was in Sayeret Matkal [General Staff Reconnaissance Unit] and make up even more stories.
I’m sure people are working on that right now. Attack me as much as you want, but leave Givati fighters alone, for God’s sake,” he said.
Bennett questioned the motivation of anyone seeking to sully the name of “the bravest fighters in the world with a value of friendship that is unparalleled in the world,” and that anyone who did so to the soldiers in Operation Protective Edge has twisted morals and is not worthy of their protection.
Overnight Monday, dozens of Maglan commanders wrote a letter rejecting the attacks on Bennett and describing him as acting “with professionalism, sound judgment, determination and great responsibility while demonstrating ample discipline, and any attempt to suggest otherwise is untrue, misleading, and biased.”
“Naftali, who was a platoon commander in Maglan, led many successful operations that led to the elimination of Hezbollah terrorists deep in enemy territory,” the letter reads.
According to Walla News, the signatories of the letter are former Sayeret Matkal commander Maj.-Gen. (res.) Shai Avital, who was Bennett’s battalion commander; former Maglan commander Maj.-Gen. (res.) Assaf Shavit; Col. (res.) Roni Balkin; another former Maglan commander, Lt.-Col. Eyal Dayan, the current deputy commander of Maglan, and numerous other officers.
In his speech Tuesday, Bennett thanked the officers, saying “comrades in arms do their job and speak the truth.
I once again discovered the value of friendship that does not depend on political deals, but on a covenant between fighters, of blood and sweat, and I thank them for that.”
Operation Grapes of Wrath was a two-week offensive launched jointly by the IDF and the now-defunct South Lebanon Army against Hezbollah aimed at quelling rocket fire that was pounding northern Israel.
Three Israeli soldiers were killed, while Hezbollah lost 14 fighters. One Syrian soldier was also killed.
Dozens of Israeli civilians were wounded while tens of thousands from the North were displaced. Lebanese civilian casualties were much higher. It is estimated that up to 170 Lebanese died in the fighting and 350 were wounded.
Nearly half-a-million Lebanese were displaced.Niv Elis contributed to this report.