Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that they had resolved their latest dispute when they met to discuss their opposing views on recent IDF-related controversies.
According to a joint statement, the two “clarified things. There is no dispute, and there will not be one. The army is subordinate to the government, and officers are free to express their opinions in the relevant forums.”
On Sunday night, Netanyahu had summoned Ya’alon to an urgent meeting Monday morning after Ya’alon told military officers: “Keep speaking your minds. Do so even if your comments are not part of the mainstream, and even if they stand in contrast with the ideas adopted by the senior command or the government… Continue to be brave, not only on the battlefield, but also at the conference table.”
The comment, made at an event attended by foreign military attaches at the Defense Ministry, apparently referred to controversial remarks by Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.- Gen. Yair Golan on Holocaust Remembrance Day that could be understood as comparing extremist elements in Israelis society to 1930s Germany.
The IDF later clarified that Golan did not mean to compare extremism in Israeli society to 1930s Germany.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu remains firm in his conviction that Golan’s comparison harmed Israel in the international arena, and that army officers should express their opinions in the relevant forums, on matters for which they are responsible.
“The IDF is the army of the people and must remain outside of politics,” the PMO said Sunday night.
During and after Monday’s meeting, Likud ministers whose ties with Netanyahu have not frayed, as have Ya’alon’s, went after the defense minister.
Culture Minister Miri Regev, a former IDF spokeswoman, said Ya’alon is “confused.”
“Army commanders need to ‘speak their minds’ in the appropriate forums and on the subjects for which they are responsible. It cannot be that an officer on duty takes the reins from the political level and acts as though it’s an army that has a country [as opposed to a country that has an army],” Regev stated. “Army commanders are responsible for building and using force, and on those topics they must bang on the table and argue… As a brigadier-general in the reserves, I was present at hundreds of such arguments, and that is where a commander can and should have an influence.”
Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz said in an interview with Army Radio that, “This never would have happened with [first prime minister David] Ben-Gurion,” calling Ya’alon’s comments “a miserable mistake.”
Steinitz said he is certain officers find it unfortunate that the IDF is once again at the center of a political argument.
Immigration Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin said he “expects the defense minister not to back everything [officers] say, even if it’s a failure, automatically, like a yo-yo.”
“IDF officers are not the national educators, nor are they opinion shapers,” Elkin added. “Everyone who wears a uniform should fight for their stances on security matters.”
A source close to Ya’alon lashed out at the ministers, calling Steinitz spineless and his words insignificant.
“Miri Regev was and remains an unprincipled populist who changes her opinions according to the spirit of the times,” the source said.
Regev responded that “Israel is not a banana republic” and it is important that the division of authority between the military and the government be protected.
“The defense minister’s call for military officials to undermine the government undermines and endangers democracy and national security,” she emphasized.
A source in Steinitz’s office pointed out that the minister was the only one in the Likud who supported Ya’alon’s position on the soldier who shot an already-subdued Palestinian terrorist, and “apparently [Steinitz] was okay then, when it suited Ya’alon.”
Several former senior defense officials came to Ya’alon’s defense, however, including former IDF Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. (res.), who is currently head of the Institute for National Security Studies.
“It is the responsibility of IDF officers and commanders to express with professional integrity their views and understanding, and it is the responsibility of the political leadership to protect senior military officials’ freedom of thought and expression,” Yadlin said. “A culture of investigating the truth and intellectual challenges is at the heart of the IDF’s power...
Open debate is one of the differences between us and those who surround us.”
“It’s very important to back the defense minister, who is acting according to his internal, moral compass, and not drag the IDF to inappropriate political areas,” Yadlin added.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.