Ya’alon: Bennett Lied About His Role in Tunnels

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Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.Credit: Reuters / Haaretz Archive

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and people in his inner circle have accused Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of spreading “lies and tales” about his part in the decisions that led to action against Hamas attack tunnels during the war in Gaza.

Ya’alon and his close associates suspect that Bennett was given classified information by former IDF Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. (res.) Avichai Ronsky. Bennett said he received no information from Ronsky and that if he had not intervened in the matter of the tunnels, Israel would not have demolished them during the war.

Bennett held numerous conversations with career officers and reservists during the war, from whom he drew information about operations and intelligence. In meetings of the inner security cabinet, he frequently clashed with Ya’alon and the Israel Defense Forces brass, demanding they act more extensively against Hamas. Ya’alon was perturbed by the information Bennett had, because he believed it showed he had unofficial channels of communication with IDF officers.

Bennett has a broad network of acquaintances and connections with senior officers, going back to the days when he was a young career officer in an elite unit. However, an unofficial probe by the army concluded that Bennett’s information came from Ronsky, and consequently, the IDF kept the former IDF chief rabbi away from the border with the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.

During the preparations for the ground operation, military figures learned that Bennett had information that had not been divulged to the cabinet. Bennett himself boasted in a number of interviews that he had knowledge of the operation as a result of his own service as an officer in special forces units as well of his acquaintance with senior IDF officers.

The IDF found a possible trail leading to Ronsky, who is known to be close to Bennett. It was also discovered that Ronsky was not called up for reserve duty during the Gaza operation in Gaza but of his own initiative joined patrols carried out by various IDF units. In consequence, the army decided to bar him from the headquarters of the various IDF units, though no other disciplinary action has yet been taken against him.

Ronsky is the head of the hesder yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, which combines religious study with military service. He and Bennett have been close for years, and the rabbi played a major role in Bennett’s election, around two years ago, as chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi party. Ronsky is involved with the Jewish Identity Administration, which was spearheaded by Bennett and created as part of his party’s coalition agreement with Likud, but Bennett’s attempts to have Ronsky appointed official head of the agency met with legal difficulties.

Ronsky said yesterday that he had not passed on any information to Bennett and that he was unaware of any claims in this regard.

Bennett told Haaretz yesterday that Ronsky is a “noble man,” adding: “It’s a pity that the defense minister is using him to lock horns. What do I need information from Ronsky for? About the kugel supply in the units? He told me about the soldiers’ morale. Nothing more. Rabbi Ronsky doesn’t have to be sacrificed on the altar. Nobody will silence me with spins.”

Bennett accused Ya’alon of fostering a concept that Hamas did not intend to use the attack tunnels and said that only because of his intervention was action against the tunnels approved. “What did they intend to do with the residents of Kfar Aza without taking care of the tunnels,” Bennett said, referring to a kibbutz on the Gaza border. “I pushed for this thing.”

A senior security official said in response that “Bennett planned nothing and initiated nothing connected to the tunnels. These are simply lies, tales and inventions. The operational plan was prepared ahead of time and brought before the cabinet by Netanyahu and Ya’alon. Bennett is using soldiers and officers for political purposes, without understanding the significance of sending an army to war.”

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