Accusations that Economy Minister Naftali Bennett received classified information illegally during Operation Protective Edge caused an uproar in the Israeli media on Tuesday.
The IDF reportedly took disciplinary action against a senior reserve officer who leaked information about the terror tunnels in Gaza, ostensibly to Bennett, who denied it.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told a briefing of reporters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday he had disciplined an officer who had leaked secret information to a cabinet minister, though he did not mention names.
“It is absolutely forbidden for cabinet ministers to speak with officers without my knowledge. There was a communication of this nature, but it was not legitimate and not treated appropriately,” he said.
Yaalon also castigated ministers whose dissident remarks had undermined the war effort, referring to Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman and others who had criticized Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for not taking a more aggressive approach with Hamas.
“I hope that the ministers in the cabinet learned their lesson,” he said. Such public division “brings a heavy price in combat. The other side sees how we will soon split apart,” he added, referring to several instances when high-level officials criticized the course of the war.
Former IDF chief Rabbi Avichai Rontzki was named in the media as the bearer of unauthorized information to Bennett. Both he and Bennett denied the accusations.
Senior political sources were quoted on Tuesday night as saying that Rabbi Rontzki is being used by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon to damage Bennett politically.
“He is a good commander and this is inappropriate treatment,” Bennett stated. “If [Yaalon] wants to bash me, he should bash me and leave the IDF alone.”
Rontzki told reporters he did not speak to Bennett at all during the operation, and the minister said in a subsequent interview that all Rontzki reported to him was high morale among the soldiers.
“I had no link to Bennett of any kind,” he said, adding, “I was with soldiers in the field.”
Ronski also rejected claims that he was dismissed by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz as a disciplinary action. “It’s not true. No one spoke to me. I was in reserves even after Operation Protective Edge. I have more reserve duty scheduled in Sukkos. I don’t know what this is about.”
Bennett’s office issued a sharp statement in response on Tuesday evening defending his role in Operation Protective Edge and rejecting the accusations.
“MK Bennett is proud of his actions which led to the tunnels operations and saved human lives. The anonymous mudslinging is an outrage,” the statement read. Bennett also claimed that the campaign to destroy the tunnels was his idea.
“Where do you think I initiated the plan to destroy [Hamas] tunnels? From an astrologist? It’s from being out in the field,” he said, referring to visits he made to the Gaza area.
There was a “conception” that Hamas would not use the tunnels, he said, and when he suggested attacking the tunnels, people, in an apparent reference to Yaalon, shrugged it off.