Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition has survived to fight another day – to fight itself, that is.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s speech announcing his decision to back down from leaving the coalition was laced with criticism of the Prime Minister and his policies, which he believes have been too soft in dealing with the Hamas terror organization.
One criticism in particular irked PM Netanyahu and other senior officials: that IDF soldiers are too afraid of legal prosecution to act effectively on the ground.
“Our soldiers are more afraid of the military advocate general than they are of Yahya Sinwar [Hamas’s military commander],” Bennett said at a morning press conference, later reiterating the charge in a tweet “unequivocally” asserting that “the excess of legalization ties the hands of IDF soldiers and endangers the lives of Israeli citizens.”
Netanyahu responded with a tweet of his own, writing, “IDF soldiers are not afraid of anything.”
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot joined in rejecting Bennett’s assertion.
Mandelblit, a retired major general who once headed the MAG corps, swept aside Bennett’s criticism, saying, “There is no truth to that statement.”
“The Military Advocate General’s Office, headed by Maj.-Gen. Sharon Afek, is working tirelessly to provide the IDF with the legal framework necessary to exert its military might to defeat our enemy, while complying with the provisions of the law,” Mandleblit’s office said in a statement. “The Attorney General fully backs their important work, which is an inseparable part of the national strength of the State of Israel.”
During a General Staff meeting on Monday, the army released a statement that defended the positive role of the military’s legal branch.
“The Military Advocate General’s Office is part of the strength of the IDF and stands shoulder to shoulder with the commanders and fighters to realize its operational mission and win the war,” the army said, in one of the rare occasions when it publicly criticized a high-ranking member of the political echelons. “The IDF must be left out of any political debate.”
Bennett’s office said he would not apologize for the comments.
“He does not intend to apologize for, or retract, his remarks,” a Jewish Home party spokesperson said, according to The Times of Israel. “He believes that we are making ourselves jump through excess legal hoops, and this harms both operations and fighters.”