PM, Barak at odds over Cast Lead probe

Sources: When Netanyahu decides, he'll take Israel’s image into account.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN,
February 1, 2010 04:00
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visits Auschwitz

netanyahu auschwitz 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke personally multiple times on Sunday in an effort to settle their dispute over whether to form a committee to probe Operation Cast Lead.

Barak has spoken out against forming an independent committee that would probe beyond the in-depth investigation of the IDF. Netanyahu has not made his position on the matter known publicly and he is believed to be under massive political pressure from Barak not to allow an inquiry committee that would be empowered to examine soldiers and officers.

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Netanyahu said at an internal meeting on Sunday morning that not only was no decision on the matter reached, but it was also unclear when it would be reached or what the decision would be.

One option discussed was to keep the situation as is, meaning that Israel would suffice with the report it presented the UN secretary-general on Friday, as well as with the publication in a few months time of a massive IDF document refuting the Goldstone Report on a point-by-point basis.

After months of opposition, Barak and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi recently modified their objections to the establishment of any independent commission, coming around to the idea of setting up a judicial investigative panel to review internal IDF investigations and determine whether they were thorough enough and lived up to accepted legal standards. However, they remain adamant in their demand that this commission not have the authority to examine officers and soldiers.

Sources close to Netanyahu said that when he makes a decision on the matter, he would take into account Israel’s image and not Barak’s.

They said he was not concerned that ruling against his defense minister could cause him political harm.

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“There’s nothing personal between them and they both know that they have to decide based on what’s good for the country,” a Netanyahu associate said. “Both of them agree that the Goldstone Report is twisted, even though they see the solution differently. Their relations are terrific, but it’s natural that they don’t always see eye to eye on everything. When they disagree, they try to find a solution, but both realize that it’s ultimately the prime minister’s decision.”

Barak’s associates expressed confidence that the Likud and Labor leaders could reach a solution that would allow them both to save face. They said what mattered is that the IDF’s future ability to strike not be limited.

“The decision is very serious and principled and so not political,” a source close to Barak said.

The first ministers to come out in favor of an
independent inquiry were Barak’s rivals in Labor,
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman. They were later joined by then-Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has his own political dispute with Barak.

Opposition leader and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who would undoubtedly be questioned by such a probe, said Sunday that “the Goldstone Report was born in sin” and that government should not grant the report legitimacy.

“It would be a mistake to establish a commission that would examine the IDF without ensuring that the sheer establishment of such a commission would protect IDF officers from future lawsuits,” Livni told reporters in Sderot. “Any comparison between a country defending its citizens and a terrorist organization not only legitimizes the terrorists, it also delegitimizes the country acting against terror.”

Shas chairman Eli Yishai accused the world of hypocrisy for questioning the morality of the IDF despite the huge disparity between the efforts of the IDF to minimize civilian casualties and those of NATO forces in Afghanistan and the US in Iraq.

“Israel has nothing to hide and nothing to justify,” Habayit Hayehudi leader Daniel Herschkowitz said. “There will always be complaints against us. But the IDF checks itself properly and has maintained the highest standards of ethics. We should make do with the IDF’s study and present it to the world with pride.”

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