The chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Shaul Mofaz of Kadima, interrupted a subcommittee session yesterday morning when it became apparent to him that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had instructed the Israel Defense Forces' director of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and a representative of the Shin Bet security service, both of whom appeared at the subcommittee hearing, not to provide information about last month's terrorist attack near Eilat.
Kochavi and the Shin Bet representative told the panel, the subcommittee on intelligence and secret services, that they had been asked not to brief the subcommittee on intelligence warnings that preceded the attack because of additional intelligence warnings received last week.
In additional signs of tension between the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the prime minister and defense minister, committee sources also cited the decision by the two ministers to okay the presence of Egyptian forces in Sinai, despite the demilitarization provisions of the peace treaty with Egypt, without securing Knesset approval.
Committee sources also noted the confrontation between Mofaz and Netanyahu over the report that Mofaz developed on what he alleged was Israel's lack of proper preparation for the prospect later this month of recognition by the United Nations of a Palestinian state. The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is charged with providing oversight of the defense establishment.
At yesterday's subcommittee meeting, after the Shin Bet representative stated that he had been specifically instructed not to go into details regarding the terrorist attack in the south, Kochavi, the head of military intelligence, said that he had been instructed by the Defense Ministry not to update the committee on the issue, according to a committee source. At that point Kochavi, who was then also due to appear before the full committee, was told his appearance before the full committee session would be canceled, the source said.
"Somebody here was confused," Mofaz said yesterday. "The Knesset has oversight authority, and the prime minister and defense minister are disrupting the committee's agenda. We didn't ask to have an investigation of the attack but just to get the intelligence facts. We need to remind the prime minister and defense minister about procedure related to the obligation to report to the committee," Mofaz added.
Former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor ) said that as defense minister he had appeared before the subcommittee on intelligence and had never encountered conduct such as occurred yesterday. "This is not the first recent instance in which they have kept information from the committee," he said.
For his part, MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union ), who is a former chief medical officer of the IDF, took Netanyahu, Barak and Mofaz to task. "The scandalous conduct of Netanyahu and Barak reflects their sense that they are above the law," he said, citing their failure to consult the Knesset on the stationing of Egyptian soldiers in Sinai. He added, however: "This conduct is based on no less scandalous conduct on Mofaz's part, for leaking classified information for political purposes. Mofaz played into their hands when he tried to turn the committee into a political mouthpiece."
The Defense Ministry confirmed that Kochavi and the Shin Bet representative had been instructed not to cooperate with the committee on the issue of the terrorist attack, and expressed regret at what the statement called "another attempt by Knesset member Mofaz to turn the [committee and subcommittee] into a petty political pawn designed to assist him in his personal battles."
The ministry said intelligence investigations are initially carried out by operational units and then by intelligence officials, and then presented to the IDF chief of staff and to government officials. It is only then that it is presented to Knesset subcommittees, the ministry said.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said he would convene a meeting with Netanyahu, Barak and Mofaz to diffuse the situation.
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