Naftali Bennett seen here as an officer in the elite IDF unit Maglan during his military service.
(photo credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)
Naftali Bennett reacted angrily to a report in the daily tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth suggesting that as an officer in an elite combat unit his actions may have led to the massacre of over 100 Lebanese civilians during Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996.
The controversy erupted earlier this week when journalist Yigal Sarna penned an article that described Bennett, then a commanding officer in the elite crack commando unit Maglan, as someone who demonstrated “poor judgment.”
“Bennett led a force of 67 combat troops into Lebanon,” Sarna wrote. “At a certain point, he decided to ignore orders and change operational plans without coordinating these moves with his superiors, who in his mind were cowardly and not steadfast enough.”
“Near the village of Kfar Kana, Bennett’s troops were caught in an ambush… 102 civilians were killed and 10 wounded, of them four United Nations peacekeepers,” the article continued. “International pressure [on Israel] in the wake of the massacre led to an end to the operation.”
The article implied that Bennett’s behavior in the field caused grave damage to Israel’s image as well as loss of life.
On his Facebook page, Bennett denied the accusations.
“I have now been subjected to an attack claiming that I am ‘responsible for the massacre in Kfar Kana’,” Bennett wrote. “Heroism will not be investigated. Keep looking in the archives. My military file is available for viewing, and it’s waiting for you.”
The Bayit Yehudi chief also responded to other journalists on social media who weighed in on the controversy. Raviv Drucker, a senior political commentator for Channel 10, tweeted a quote that he heard from “a senior military officer” who “was well-versed in the details of the investigation of the Kfar Kana incident in 1996.”
“He told me that in the two-way radio, the young Bennett sounds hysterical, and the stress that he was under contributed significantly to the terrible mishap,” Drucker tweeted.
Bennett fired back at Drucker, tweeting: “I remember very well where I was on that night in 1996. I was with my soldiers, deep in Lebanon, facing the enemy. Where were you on that evening, Drucker?”
Operation Grapes of Wrath was a two-week offensive launched jointly by the IDF and the now-defunct South Lebanon Army against Hezbollah aimed at quelling rocket fire that was pounding northern Israel.
Three Israeli soldiers were killed, while Hezbollah lost 14 fighters. One Syrian soldier was also killed.
Dozens of Israeli civilians were wounded while tens of thousands from the north were displaced. Lebanese civilian casualties were much higher. It is estimated that up to 170 Lebanese died in the fighting and 350 were wounded. Nearly half a million Lebanese were displaced.