(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The IDF took disciplinary action against a senior reserves officer suspected of passing on unauthorized and classified information to Economy Minister Naftali Bennett during the fighting with Hamas this summer, it emerged on Tuesday.
The disciplinary action was against former IDF chief rabbi Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avihai Ronski, who had his access to military activity removed.
Nevertheless, Ronski denied on Tuesday that he was the officer in question.
“I had no link to Bennett of any kind,” he told Channel 2 News, adding, “I was with soldiers in the field.”
The former army rabbi also rejected claims that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz had dismissed him following a decision to take disciplinary action.
“It’s not true. No one spoke to me. I was [serving] in the reserves even after Operation Protective Edge,” he said. “I have more reserve duty scheduled on Succot. I don’t know what this is about.”
Ronski had not been officially called up for reserve duty this summer.
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Meanwhile, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Tuesday that he hoped cabinet ministers who had behaved improperly during the war had “learned” from the episode, though he did not name specific ministers.
For his part, Bennett denied all accusations of having illegally received information during Operation Protective Edge. The economy minister accused Ya’alon of using his close associate Ronski to hurt him politically.
“[Ronski] is a good commander, and this is inappropriate treatment,” Bennett said. “If [Ya’alon] wants to bash me, he should bash me and leave the IDF alone.”
Bennett recounted visiting soldiers “dozens” of times during Protective Edge and meeting with many commanders, citing this as the source of his strategy to demolish Hamas’s terror tunnels.
“Where do you think I initiated the plan to destroy [Hamas] tunnels? From an astrologist? It’s from being out in the field,” he said.
Bennett said there had been a “conception” that Hamas would not use the tunnels, and that when he’d first brought up the idea to attack the tunnels, people — implying Ya’alon — had shrugged it off. He also said that after fighting in the Second Lebanon War, he got the sense that the politicians making decisions did not get a full picture of what was happening, and he had vowed he would not allow that to happen to him.
“If someone looks into it, he will see who initiated and who blocked [decisions], who was for destroying the tunnels and who was against it, who voted for ending the operation without destroying the tunnels and who voted against it,” he added.
On Facebook, Bennett wrote: “I did not back down from my opinions, even when there were others who were dismissing my positions, insisting there was no threat of Hamas terror tunnels [because they had determined that Hamas] did not intend on using the tunnels.”
He added: “I am willing to accept the headlines against me as long as not one hair on any southern resident’s head is harmed due to terror tunnels. I will not be silenced.”
Meanwhile, Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On wrote on Facebook that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should fire Bennett.
“Our economy minister used a former IDF chief rabbi as a spy for political gain during a war,” she wrote. “The army admits the leak and suspended Ronski. What about dismissing Bennett, who undermined the army? Where is the prime minister?”
MK Nachman Shai (Labor) said “Bennett and Ya’alon’s squabbling shows us the government’s dysfunctionality and hesitancy during the operation. If this is how important decisions were made during Operation Protective Edge, the government doesn’t deserve the nation that went to war, showed solidarity and paid a heavy price.”
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) called for Gantz to “dismiss the conscientious objectors from [intelligence unit] 8200, who are causing great damage to Israel and the IDF, rather than look for a scapegoat to silence dissenting voices in the army who [Gantz] may not have liked during the operation.”
Elkin added that “even if it is true that Rabbi Ronski leaked information to a cabinet member — which was not yet proven — out of concern for the security of citizens of Israel, it is much less serious than briefings to the media that took place during the operation and after it by senior IDF officers in an attempt to deal with public and media criticism.”
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