Finance Minister MK Bezalel Smotrich refused to attend a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the division of powers in the Defense Ministry after his demand to prevent the participation of IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi was not accepted, Channel 13 reported on Monday evening.
Reaction from Smotrich's office
The Office of the Bezalel Smotrich responded to Channel 13's report, saying: "Minister Smotrich is very careful not to involve the army in politics. The powers will be settled tonight between Minister Smotrich and the Prime Minister and Defense Minister Gallant," the statement said.
"Minister Smotrich and the Chief of Staff have met several times in recent weeks and there is open and excellent dialogue between them. Now, the Chief of Staff is expressing his professional position to the Prime Minister and it is good that this is so, immediately afterward a political meeting will be held where the matter will be decided."
Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid reacted to the report in a tweet: "The Finance Minister and the alternate Defense Minister are not ready to attend a security meeting with the Prime Minister because the Chief of Staff is present in the room. Read that again. You will understand to what degree the State of Israel today is captured by fanatical extremists who do not respect the Prime Minister one bit, and how our national security is compromised."
National Unity Party leader MK Benny Gantz also commented, saying: "Netanyahu, your irresponsible behavior has put the security establishment into a dangerous spiral. There is no need for any discussion, it is forbidden to trade security powers. They don't even want to hear the truth. Instead of disbanding the IDF, focus on the Iranian nuclear and other security challenges."
The meeting was meant to reach a solution in the conflict between Gallant and Smotrich over the division of authority over civil matters in the West Bank, which came to a head after an illegal olive grove was demolished on February 15, a move Smotrich opposed and had sought to prevent.
Netanyahu subsequently summoned Defense Minister Gallant to discuss the issue of transferring authority over civil matters in the West Bank to Smotrich. Gallant has so far refused to transfer powers that could have implications on security issues.
Eliav Breuer contributed to this story.