Shaul Mofaz 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee slammed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for preventing a Shin Bet representative and OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi from testifying on Sunday.
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In an unusual move, Kochavi and the Shin Bet representative arrived at a meeting of the Subcommittee for Intelligence, Secret Services, Captives and Missing Soldiers with letters from the defense minister and the prime minister, respectively, saying that they may not answer the subcommittee’s inquiries as to what intelligence their agencies had before the terrorist attack on the Egyptian border last month.
“This is a deliberate attack on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s capabilities as the parliamentary body that supervises defense matters,” committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) said.
“There is no reason connected to security not to testify, and this decision was made from other considerations, which prevent the committee from fulfilling its duty to the public,” he added. “The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will not allow the developing trend to continue.”
“We did not want to interrogate them,” Mofaz explained. “All we wanted was to hear what information they had before the attack took place.”
Barak rejected Mofaz’s criticism and said that the officers would present their findings to the committee after the internal IDF investigations into the attacks were completed.
“It is unfortunate that Mofaz has decided again to turn the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and its subcommittees into a political tool for his own personal use,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “Operational and intelligence inquiries are first held within the operational units, the intelligence agencies and are then presented to the chief of General Staff and the government. Then, they are presented to the Knesset’s subcommittees. That is how it has always been and that is how it will always be.”
Mofaz also called for Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to call Netanyahu and Barak to the Knesset for a meeting on the matter.
“The Knesset and its committees are meant to supervise the executive branch of government – they cannot disrupt this order,” he said.
Rivlin agreed to hold a meeting “to solve the current crisis.”
“At a time when the committee chairman and the prime minister disagree on defense matters, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s limits and the Knesset’s authority to supervise the Defense Ministry and its functions need to be defined,” Rivlin said.
MK Binyamin Ben- Eliezer (Labor) said that as a former defense minister and a veteran member of the committee, he does not remember defense officials ever being prevented from giving the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee information.
“This committee is appointed by the Knesset to handle sensitive and confidential information,” MK Avi Dichter (Kadima), a former Shin Bet chief, said. “This move is unprecedented. Censorship is intolerable and against the law.”
Kadima MK Yisrael Hasson said that “we cannot suspend our criticism” despite a lack of information.
“We cannot tell the public that we learned, reached conclusions, and are acting, so they can stay calm,” Hasson explained. “The prime minister and defense minister took that away from us.”
MK Arye Eldad said that the incident is “serious and very dangerous – but is not new. For two years the Defense Ministry has held back information.”
At the same time, he criticized Mofaz for his handling of a report on the possible ramifications of the Palestinian statehood bid.
“The report that we discussed last week was confidential, but you publicized its contents,” Eldad said. “This gave [Netanyahu and Barak] a great excuse. You lowered the committee’s stature, and allowed them to play this game.”
MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) said that the committee members should “practice self-examination in order to prevent a similar situation in the future.”
However, MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) said: “It isn’t the prime minister or defense minister’s privilege to prevent us from receiving information. This move was political, and not connected to the committee’s activities.”