An argument broke out during Thursday’s cabinet meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and fellow Likud ministers Gideon Sa’ar and Silvan Shalom over the goals of Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip.
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According to a source that participated in the meeting, Interior Minister Sa’ar told Netanyahu that, from the outset, the goal of the operation should have been to topple Hamas’ reign in Gaza.
“I wasn’t one of those (ministers) to go out in public, in front of the media, and say we need to topple the Hamas regime, but today I am saying it here that that should have been the operation’s objective,” the source quoted Sa’ar as saying.
The source who attended the meeting also said Sa’ar quoted extracts of the Winograd Commission report, which investigated the failures of the Second Lebanon War, focusing on criticism leveled by the commission on the leaders' foot-dragging and the decisions that were made on a diplomatic level.
“I recommend you read the Winograd report,” Sa’ar told Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, according to the source.
When asked to respond to the source’s claims, Sa’ar told Haaretz, “I am legally obliged to avoid responding to things that were said in the cabinet meeting even if those quotes are incorrect.”
The source also said that Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom criticized the conduct of the operation, too, stating that in his opinion toppling Hamas should have been the goal of the operation. However, he emphasized in his closing comments that he supports the prime minister.
In a statement to the press at the start of the meeting, Netanyahu had already indicated his dissatisfaction at the criticism voiced in recent days by certain ministers - both from within his own party, Likud, and others.
“There is a minority among the public that - precisely at this time – chooses to radicalize its opinions to one side or another,” Netanyahu remarked. “I say to them: Don’t harm the special unity that exists between us. Mind your words, be careful how you act, and, most importantly, government ministers are those who must set a personal example for the entire public. The people expect government ministers to rally behind the goal.”
After the cameras left the room, Netanyahu turned to the minsters with a sharper tone, saying, “Government ministers must not publicly attack me during a war.” The prime minister read excerpts from a letter his late brother Yoni Netanyahu wrote about the need for unity and added that there is no problem with voicing criticism, so long as it is done around the table at cabinet meetings.
During the meeting, Netanyahu also discussed the prospects of a cease-fire. “I will not agree to any proposal that does not allow the Israel Defense Forces to complete its important mission of neutralizing the tunnels,” he said, “Neutralizing the tunnels is just the first step in demilitarizing the Gaza Strip. The United States and the European Union have adopted our stance on the issue of demilitarization and that was not easy to achieve, but we achieved it together with hard work.”