Has Netanyahu rendered Israel's defense establishment irrelevant?

PM has a worrying pattern of keeping the defense establishment in the dark about crucial defense deals.

ISRAELI POLITICOS treat the World Zionist Congress like a billion-dollar cash cow. Pictured: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the 37th WZC at the Jerusalem International Convention Center in 2015. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
ISRAELI POLITICOS treat the World Zionist Congress like a billion-dollar cash cow. Pictured: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the 37th WZC at the Jerusalem International Convention Center in 2015.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done it again: lying to the public and hiding strategic deals from Israel’s defense establishment.
Except this time, instead of secretly approving the sale of advanced submarines to Egypt by Germany, he's secretly giving the green light to Washington to sell the advanced F-35 fighter jet to the United Arab Emirates.
When the story first broke following a report by Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea, which stated that UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan conditioned the normalization agreement on the sale of the advanced stealth fighter, Netanyahu called it “fake news.”
He claimed that the agreement “did not include Israel’s consent to any arms deal whatsoever between the US and the UAE, and that Jerusalem would oppose such a deal since it would have a negative effect on the country’s military superiority in the region.”
But more than a month later, it’s clear that Netanyahu was not telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He had hidden critical security deals from the one government body that should have been a key player from the start.
It seemed that Netanyahu, who has spent the last 11 years in power, has made Israel’s powerful defense establishment irrelevant.
Once the story broke, and despite Netanyahu’s denials, Israel’s defense establishment raised concerns that the country would lose its qualitative military edge (QME), since it is the only country in the Middle East using the plane. Once one Arab country gets the plane, others like Saudi Arabia and Qatar won’t be far behind.
But Netanyahu stuck to his denials, saying on Saturday during a press conference regarding the recently announced peace deal with Sudan that “there is no basis for the claim” by Defense Minister Benny Gantz that he kept that aspect of the deal hidden from the Defense Ministry.
Gantz, on the other hand, has doubled down on his accusation that Israeli officials involved in the talks knew of the secret clause, but that it was kept secret from the defense establishment.
He released a statement publicly contradicting Netanyahu, saying that, “as defense minister, I can say definitively that the defense establishment did not know of and was not informed of the negotiations to provide advanced weaponry to the UAE by the prime minister.”
“The Defense Ministry did not have the information necessary to properly and responsibly conduct the process,” the statement added.
Gantz isn’t the first defense minister and chief of staff from whom Netanyahu has kept such important defense deals hidden.
“He did it in the past as well,” MK Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon (Yesh Atid-Telem) told The Jerusalem Post, referring to approval of the sale of two advanced submarines to Egypt by Germany. “It’s so clear and obvious not to do it behind the back of the defense establishment,” he said.
Ya’alon was defense minister when Netanyahu approved the sale to Egypt – which was then being led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi – in exchange for a reported $500 million discount on the purchase of a sixth submarine for Israel.
The deal was done by Netanyahu without informing Ya’alon (who later quit the role following disagreements with Netanyahu) and then-chief of staff Gantz on the grounds of state security. He also initially consistently denied the reports and claimed that Germany never asked for his approval to sell Cairo the submarines.
Ya’alon told the Post that although he supports such deals with Arab countries, he nevertheless stressed Netanyahu should not be lying about the clauses of the deals.
“I heard Netanyahu’s announcement in August announcing the Abraham Accords, and he forgot to talk about the price we had to pay,” Ya’alon said, “meaning sovereignty and the Israeli approval for the F-35 supply and other sophisticated weapons to be procured by the UAE. I also listened to officials in Trump’s administration and voices from Abu Dhabi and realized it was a lie. It was a lie that was exposed by our defense establishment as well. Why lie – why hide?”
According to him, Netanyahu’s move of “saying yes to the US administration without any reservation” made it so that Gantz and his team had to “recover and keep Israel’s QME.”
“It should have been done in a very different way; experts should not be involved after the horse has left the stable,” Ya’alon said.
When asked if he thought that Israel should have a mechanism in which any defense deal must first be approved by the cabinet and other government bodies, Ya’alon said it was a “reasonable” idea, but that Israel had not needed any sort of legislation before.
“It should have been discussed in our defense establishment, cabinet and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. It should be discussed in advance without being approved only by Netanyahu,” he said. “It’s so reasonable; it’s so clear that the prime minister can’t do it by himself. He’s the first in the government, but he can’t [make the decision] himself. The cabinet and Knesset should be part of it.”
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, executive director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, also called the deal with the UAE “important and historic,” but noted that it was a “tripartite deal with normalization, the cancellation of annexation and, despite the prime minister’s denials, advanced weapons for the Emirates.”
The former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate added that the “graver issue here is not the weapons for a distant, moderate country that is in our camp vis-à-vis Iran – rather, it is a recurring pattern: false denials by the prime minister after he once again concealed a significant security decision from senior cabinet ministers and the defense establishment.”
It’s the Submarine Affair all over again, except this time switching naval platforms for the advanced F-35 stealth fighter jet. Deliberately misleading the defense establishment and the public seems to be a pattern for Netanyahu, who claims to be “Mr. Security.”
And that’s not good.