Senior officials rebutted Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s claim that IDF soldiers fear legal action more than Hamas officials, stressing that the army should be kept out of political debates, as politicians, legal officers and the army weighed in on his comments.
“Our soldiers are more afraid of the military advocate general than they are of Yahya Sinwar,” Bennett posited at a press conference on Monday, a claim he doubled down on in a statement released later in the day. During the press conference, he announced that he would resign from his post, which would have plunged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition into further crisis.
Bennett took to Twitter later in the day to “unequivocally” assert that “the excess of legalization ties the hands of IDF soldiers and endangers the lives of Israeli citizens.”
Sinwar, the commander of Hamas’s military wing Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, said last week Israel should “not test us again,”
warning the group’s next round of rockets could strike Tel Aviv.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu curtly responded to the statement, writing on Twitter, “IDF soldiers are not afraid of anything.”
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot both quickly pushed back at the statement, stressing the IDF’s immeasurable role in the safety of Israel.
“The Military Advocate General’s Office, headed by Maj.-Gen. Sharon Afek, is working tirelessly to provide the IDF with the legal framework necessary to exert its military might to defeat our enemy, while complying with the provisions of the law,” Mandleblit’s office said in a statement. “The attorney-general fully backs their important work, which is an inseparable part of the national strength of the State of Israel.”
Mandelblit’s statement recalled his service as chief military advocate-general during the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead, and said that the office works “shoulder to shoulder” with the IDF “for the common goal” of the army.
Mandelblit was chief military advocate general from 2004 to 2011.
Eisenkot “expressed his pride” in the army, which protects the residents of the State of Israel, during a General Staff meeting, the army said in a statement.
“The Military Advocate General’s Office is part of the strength of the IDF and stands shoulder to shoulder with the commanders and fighters to realize its operational mission and win the war,” the army said in a statement, adding Afek is “highly respected both within the IDF and beyond.”
“The IDF must be left out of any political debate,” the army concluded.
After the criticism, which also was levied by party leaders during parliamentary faction meetings, Bennett reiterated his claim that the IDF was weighed down too much by legal requirements.
“Minister Bennett expressed his clear position this morning – in the IDF, and not only today, there is a surplus of legalization,” his office said in a statement. “[He] believes that today IDF soldiers are pushed into a corner by excessive legal hoops, in a manner that harms the levels of IDF operations and soldiers, beyond the limits of international law.”
“The scales are not even today,” the statement continued. “Bennett highly appreciates the IDF commanders, headed by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. At the same time, his opinion on the subject is firm.”
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