Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will return from his trip to Singapore and Australia on Monday straight into a storm brewing ahead of the following day’s release of a report by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira into Operation Protective Edge.
The report is expected to be critical of Netanyahu and his security cabinet during the 2014 war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Sources close to the prime minister said he was ready to deflect blame for failures addressed in the report to his defense minister and IDF chief of staff at the time, Moshe Ya’alon and Benny Gantz, respectively. The sources said they do not expect any political damage to the prime minister, because so much of what was written in the report has already been leaked.
Likud officials already on Sunday began attempts to taint the document as political, citing a Channel 10 report that its author’s son is a Bayit Yehudi activist who boasts of his closeness to party chairman Naftali Bennett. The report was written by Yossi Beinhorn, a former brigadier-general who heads the security unit in the State Comptroller’s Office. Beinhorn’s son Doron used the slogan “Bennett’s man” when he ran for head of Bayit Yehudi’s Young Guard.
Coalition chairman David Bitan, who is close to Netanyahu, demanded that the Comptroller’s Report be thrown out if the Channel 10 report is proven correct. He complained to the head of the Knesset State Control Committee, MK Karin Elharar, demanding an immediate meeting on the author’s alleged conflict of interests. Bitan also questioned Shapira’s expertise.
“The comptroller dealt with issues that he should not have dealt with,” Bitan said. “He does not know how to run a war.”
Former senior IDF officials and cabinet ministers have dismissed a number of the comptroller’s expected findings, defending the actions of the IDF and the intelligence services during and ahead of the war.
Speaking to military reporters on Sunday, a former senior cabinet minister criticized the report, saying that it focused only on the threat posed by Hamas tunnels. According to the former minister, he tried to dissuade Shapira from writing the report, saying that “it was all political.”
“They came with questions about one thing, and ignored everything else. There were ministers playing politics in cabinet meetings during the operation and that is a major fault,” he said.
He pointed a finger at Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who was foreign minister during war and wanted Israel to retake control of the Gaza Strip but didn’t attend any discussions regarding the threat of the tunnels. The former senior cabinet minister also harshly criticized Education Minister Naftali Bennett, accusing him of trying to undermine both himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bennett, both during the operation and after, was highly critical of the Defense Ministry’s conduct, saying that the threat posed by the attack tunnels was not taken seriously.
Transcripts from the cabinet meetings held during the operation, which were obtained by Yediot Aharonot in January, show Bennett had called for a more aggressive campaign, opposing recommendations made by then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and then IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, who called for a more restrained response to the rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip.
“It was obvious from the start that Bennett was going to take the tunnel issue and use it for a political campaign,” the former senior cabinet minister said, adding that Bennett had approached religious Zionist soldiers in the Givati Brigade and learned about the IDF military buildup outside Gaza, and created “chaos” when he then went to the cabinet and offered tactical suggestions.
“A minister needs to speak not to low-ranking soldiers, but to higher-ranking officers. If not, he doesn’t get the full picture, and he shouldn’t be bringing that to cabinet,” the former senior cabinet member said.
“I’ve never once seen such a cabinet full of ministers who acted this way. Why is everyone trying to deal with tactics? That’s not their job, their job is to think of things above the tactical level,” he continued.
The former minister also argued that cabinet members ignored efforts to educate themselves on security-related matters; for example, fewer than half attended a classified intelligence seminar with top air force and intelligence officers he had offered for all cabinet ministers.
He dismissed accusations that the IDF did not have a complete intelligence picture of threats from Gaza ahead of the war, but admitted that there were things that were missed.
“We are raised to believe that intelligence is always 100% right, but we can never have intelligence which is 100% right. There are times that we miss things,” he said.
The report is expected to condemn Netanyahu and Ya’alon for failing to prepare for the threat posed by Hamas tunnels from Gaza, despite intelligence that they received.
On Sunday, Construction Minister and former head of the IDF’s Southern Command Yoav Galant slammed Ya’alon and Gantz, saying that they failed.
“The soldiers fought like heroes during Protective Edge,” Galant tweeted. “Ya’alon and former chief of staff Benny Gantz failed. They were negligent and careless. They hesitated to use force. And now, they are hiding behind the cabinet.”
Galant, who in 2010 was on track to become IDF chief of staff, lost out to Gantz after his candidacy was crippled by his involvement in a scandal involving illegal construction at his home.
Gantz, speaking over the weekend with Yediot Aharonot reporter Isaac Dabush at a conference for veterans of Havatzalot, an elite intelligence program, also dismissed the findings of the report, and insisted that contrary to talk about failed intelligence gathering, especially regarding the threat of Hamas tunnels, the intelligence was sound.
“It is impossible to implement a deployment and succeed in wars without intelligence.
During Protective Edge, there was intelligence that was excellent, terrific, accessible, but not always perfect. I am ready to go into the next campaign with the same intelligence that we had in the last one,” he said.
Standing up for Military Intelligence and its chief at the time, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Gantz said, “Aviv Kochavi is the best Military Intelligence chief that the IDF has had in the past 40 years. All the criticism that is voiced in the [State Comptroller’s] Report about this – I don’t accept it.”
Taking to his Facebook page on Saturday night, Ya’alon said, “There are those who leak, and there are those who fight.
“In the next week, you’re going to hear a lot about Protective Edge. Whoever was playing politics in the cabinet during the war will continue to do so this week,” he continued.
“They’ll say that we didn’t know, that we didn’t tell them, that we didn’t report to them. And the biggest lie of all? That we weren’t prepared and we lost. That’s nonsense.”