Palestinian protesters throw back a tear gas canister that was fired towards them by Israeli soldiers during clashes over the border fence between Israel and Gaza, October 23, 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Who is responsible for building the promised new Gaza security fence to protect residents on the border from the dangerous new Hamas threat to penetrate their towns? When will it be ready? More than 14 months after the 2014 Gaza war ended with Hamas penetrating the border multiple times, it became clear at the Knesset’s State Control Committee hearing on Monday that there are no answers.
It was also clear that there has been almost no serious progress, with the discussion descending into a ‘he said, she said’ of mutual accusations of dropping the ball among government officials.
At the start of the session, committee chairwoman Karin Elharar quickly established from IDF Lt.-Col. Yossi Cohen that the IDF’s plans for building the new fence, which will include a variety of defenses, have long been ready and presented to the government.
From there most of the session consisted of National Security Council Deputy for Technology and Initiatives Yinon Ben Tzur and Finance Ministry representative Matan Yagel arguing over whether they had sent and received documents to each other on the issue.
When asked whether he had approved the IDF’s budget request to build the fence, Yagel replied, “We never received any details, any plan or what the costs were.”
He added, “We cannot approve a budget that has not been sent to us.”
Ben Tzur said that his office had sent a budget proposal to Yagel’s office, with Yagel interjecting, “No you did not.”
The two sides repeated this refrain several times throughout the hearing, cutting each other off.
Elharar described the scene as one from kindergarten and asked, “How can this be? This cannot be. We could be close to a major attack and the government is not keeping its promises to Gaza border residents.”
MK Chaim Yellin (Yesh Atid) also slammed the government officials in attendance, with Ben Tzur taking most of the heat and looking visibly uncomfortable. Yellin said he understands that the new border security apparatus involves a range of complex issues and decisions about what kinds of new hi-tech to employ, but that none of these reasons should hold up building at least a basic new fence.
He stressed that currently the security apparatus on certain parts of the border creates such a tiny security zone, that the IDF would not be capable of responding to an attack on towns on the Gaza border in time if invaders crossed the border without immediately being spotted.
While none of the government ministry officials came out and said it explicitly, it appeared that the elephant in the room was that progress on the issue had been halted by inter-ministry wrestling over budgetary issues, many of which were only indirectly related to the fence.
Also, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira told the committee members that he had already released a draft of the first section of his report on the 2014 Gaza war to the Prime Minister’s Office and expects to send the PMO a complete draft by December.
To the chagrin of Elharar and several local government representatives from the Gaza border corridor, Ben Tzur refused to give dates as to when the state would start or finish building the fence.
He was also vague about who must decide and what decisions need to be made to get to that point, though he implied that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to choose among various options relating to the fence and Gaza border security issues.
Elharar demanded an answer from Ben Tzur about the time-frame and the process for building the fence within one month.