‘Earthquake’ War Meeting Protocols Pit Bennett Against ‘Reluctant’ Defense Establishment

YERUSHALAYIM -
A Hamas terror tunnel. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

A Knesset subcommittee in charge of the matter, in a vote Tuesday afternoon, is set to release a secret report on Operation Protective Edge that had been prepared by the State Comptroller’s Office, but Israelis did not have to wait for the formal vote by MKs to read the essential information in the report. Yediot Acharonot leaked part of the report in its Tuesday morning edition, and several politicians, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who was extensively quoted in the protocols, called the revelations nothing less than an “earthquake.”

The revelations are part of an overall report on the way Operation Protective Edge, the Hamas terror tunnel threat, and the ongoing rocket attacks on southern Israel were handled by the government. The Yediot report – which had been seen previously by numerous news outlets – presented protocols of Cabinet meetings leading up to and during the war. in which ministers decided whether or not to attack Hamas in the wake of the increased rocket attacks on Israel in Spring 2014.

The protocols show that there was a deep divide within the government, with then-Economy Minister Bennett demanding action against Hamas, and especially the terror tunnels that the group was known to have dug. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon along with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz both opposed attacking Hamas.

Bennett demanded that the IDF reduce the threat of Hamas on Israelis once and for all, and he found support among other ministers, including Yuval Steinitz and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu himself, who asked Yaalon to develop a plan to battle the terror tunnels. “The tunnels are a true strategic threat that could change the balance of power between us.” Yaalon said that there was such a plan, but in response, Netanyahu said that if one did exist, he had not been informed about it.

Meanwhile, Bennett urged action, according to the protocols, especially against the tunnels, but was sharply opposed by Yaalon. “You will not tell me how to run the army,” Yaalon said to Bennett. “Do I owe you an explanation for anything?” According to the report, both Yaalon and Gantz said that Israel’s strategic efforts should be aimed at achieving a ceasefire with the terror group. “The tunnels are a reasonable threat,” Gantz said, one that Israel could live with, and thus there was no need to begin a full-blown military operation to destroy them – an operation that actually took place in the end, when IDF troops entered Gaza in early July of 2014. Yaalon agreed, saying that Israel’s best move would be to achieve a ceasefire with Egypt’s help.

Political commentators on Israel Radio said that Yaalon came off as “unprepared to meet the terror threat, while Gantz appeared not to have a fighting spirit about him. Bennett, on the other hand, looks like a true leader.”

Speaking Tuesday, Bennett said that “we have to be honest: The conception of how security is to be handled has collapsed. We can no longer tolerate a situation where we ‘tolerate’ enemies; we must vanquish them. Our victories must be clear and direct. They must be victories that speak for themselves, not those that require public relations to explain. Not a victory that guarantees a stalemate for another 50 years, but one that brings real victory. This is the kind of thinking defense requires today. I call on the prime minister to meet with the Cabinet in order to discuss this report and how to repair the situation.”

Commenting on the report, Yaalon said that regardless of what anyone thought, Israel’s southern border has been more or less quiet since the war. As far as Bennett’s criticism was concerned, Yaalon said Tuesday that “unfortunately, ministers have been leaking this report, apparently just to get some more ‘likes’ on social media. If we had operated during the war according to the polls, we would have been, and would still be, stuck deep in the mud of Gaza.”