The reported decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to split responsibilities over the West Bank between Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister within the Defense Ministry and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich will "severely damage the defense system's functioning" and end up costing lives of Israeli civilians, seven opposition MKs wrote in a letter on Thursday to Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (FADC) chairman MK Yuli Edelstein.
"In light of the prime minister's decision to force the defense minister to split his responsibility over Israel's citizens, despite the defense minister's obvious opposition, while severely damaging the defense system's functioning, we demand to hold an urgent debate in the FADC over the decision's ramifications," MKs Gadi Eisenkot (National Unity), Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), Gideon Sa'ar (National Unity), Merav Michaeli (Labor), Orna Barbivai (Yesh Atid) Sharon Nir (Yisrael Beytenu) and Ram Ben Barak (Yesh Atid) wrote.
Reactions to the decision
"From our experience and our responsibility to oversee the government's actions, this decision involves severe damage to the defense system's functioning, which could cost the lives of civilians of the state of Israel. Furthermore, we view this decision as a violation of the 'Basic Law: The Military', and as a blow to the defense system's ability to fulfill its responsibility," the MKs wrote.
The letter came after KAN reported on Wednesday night that Netanyahu had decided to grant Smotrich authority over the defense ministry units that deal with civilian matters in the West Bank – COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) and the Civil Authority. The Likud agreed to this in its coalition agreement with Smotrich's RZP party, but Gallant reportedly was adamantly opposed, saying earlier on in the week that he had not been privy to the negotiations and that the IDF must have one commander, and one commander only.
However, sources from both the Likud and RZP denied that Netanyahu had decided on the matter, and said that he was still working to come up with a compromise between the two.
The issue came up last Friday when Smotrich ordered the Civil Authority not to tear down an illegal outpost that had gone up overnight called "Or Haim," but Gallant overrode him and ordered military and border police forces to tear it down.