Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lashed out at his ministers for playing politics during Operation Protective Edge at Thursday’s cabinet meeting.
“I call upon you not to harm the special unity that there is among us right now,” Netanyahu said. “Watch your words, be careful with your actions. Above all, cabinet ministers must present a personal example to the entire public. At this time, the nation expects all of us, especially cabinet ministers, to unite behind a common goal.”
The prime minister referred to a book by his brother, the late Entebbe commander Yonatan Netanyahu, who wrote that the wars of the Jews started after the fighting, not before it was over.
Netanyahu’s comments set off immediate speculation about which ministers he meant.
At first, speculation centered on Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. But sources close to them said they were convinced that the criticism was not directed at them.
When the meeting was closed to the press, Likud ministers criticized Netanyahu in turn, indicating that they had assumed they were the subjects of his warnings. Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, for instance, who is Netanyahu’s No. 2 in Likud, recommended reading the Winograd Commission’s report on the Second Lebanon War, which was highly critical of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert.
There were also ministers such as Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom, who took Netanyahu to task for making all the decisions in the eight-minister security cabinet and not regularly briefing the cabinet as a whole. Shalom said Israel should learn from the Russian Army during World War II the necessity of continuing the operation until its goals are accomplished.
Sources in Netanyahu’s office stressed that he had not intended to criticize any of the ministers personally, just to emphasize the need for unity in the cabinet.
Ahead of the meeting, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was more blunt in her criticism of cabinet ministers; it was clearer that she had Bennett and Liberman in mind.
“I don’t want to say names, but I have criticism for those playing politics during war,” Livni told Army Radio. “In the end, they also know that their votes in the security cabinet have life-and-death ramifications. It’s more than just whether an idea is successful or not. It’s not just not right. It’s downright ugly.”
Sources close to Bennett declined to respond to Livni.
Intelligence Services Minister Yuval Steinitz, meanwhile, defended Netanyahu in an interview with Israel Radio.
“You can think differently – sometimes I think differently – but the prime minister has greater responsibility on his shoulders than other ministers so they should back him," Steinitz said. "If anyone has another opinion they should wait until after the war."
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.