Netanyahu and Bennett.
(photo credit: REUTERS,MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Finalizing Yisrael Beytenu’s entrance to the government coalition has been delayed by a clash between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.
Bennett’s party of eight lawmakers refused over the weekend to approve the appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister until Netanyahu takes steps to improve communication between the security cabinet and the defense establishment.
Bennett is demanding Netanyahu appoint a dedicated military attaché for the sensitive 10-member cabinet committee, to provide ministers with real-time security updates, coordinate additional fact-finding visits to IDF bases and other military zones, and facilitate access to classified information.
Netanyahu has so far refused to acquiesce to Bennett’s demand, offering instead to set up a committee headed by former National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror that would recommend ways to make military information more readily available to ministers.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of Bayit Yehudi insisted that her party was serious about its demand, so serious in fact that an early election was “a possibility” if the government did not cede on the attaché issue.
Bennett’s demand is eminently reasonable. Netanyahu’s stonewalling seems to be motivated less by legitimate concerns, such the risk that sensitive intelligence information might be leaked by loose-lipped ministers, than by political considerations, such as Netanyahu’s reluctance to grant Bennett a concession. His suggestion to set up a committee seems to be a foot-dragging ploy.
Admittedly, Bennett’s impetus is probably not devoid of political considerations. Watching Liberman – a man who heads a party with just six MKs – take the Defense portfolio must not be easy for Bennett, who probably believes he is more deserving as the head of party with eight MKs. The Bayit Yehudi chairman wants to come out of the new coalition agreement with an achievement.
He saw an opportunity to put pressure on Netanyahu and he took it.
Nevertheless, improving the decision-making process in the security cabinet is worth fighting for. Security cabinet votes send soldiers to battle in defense of the nation. It is essential that decisions are made based on the best information available. We do not want our ministers raising their hands in favor of fateful operations that endanger the lives of our soldiers based on partial or inaccurate information.
And while Bennett might be taking advantage of an opportunity to put pressure on Netanyahu at a critical juncture, this is not the first time the Bayit Yehudi chairman has called to improve communication between the executive branch and the military. Since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, Bennett has voiced his concerns. And these concerns have been backed up by others.
Portions of a draft of the State Comptroller’s Report on Protective Edge were leaked earlier this month. According to media reports, the state comptroller found that cabinet members were not properly updated during the war in the Gaza Strip. Nor were they notified about the threat Hamas’s attack tunnels presented. The draft report also reportedly found that vital information was kept from the ministers, such as the level of Israel’s munitions supplies.
The leaked information sparked a confrontation between Liberman and Netanyahu. The two men leveled disparaging remarks at each other, each questioning the other’s military expertise. Bennett was one of the few political figures who emerged from the State Comptroller’s Report not only unscathed but praised for demanding to receive more information on the tunnel threat.
It is possible that the confrontation between Netanyahu and Bennett will be resolved without endangering the government coalition. That is the way it will be resolved if all actors behave rationally. Ultimately, Bennett’s demand makes sense and is good for the State of Israel. An early election, in contrast, would damage the economy and undermine implementation of policy decisions.
We are confident both Netanyahu and Bennett will make the right choice.