Bennett: Leadership's 'Stagnated Thinking' Is Main Threat to Israel's Security

Habayit Hayehudi head slams security policy of Netanyahu and Ya’alon; sources close to Netanyahu: 'Bennett is repeating his familiar pattern of behavior. He hears ideas and uses them as his own.'

Minister Naftali Bennett, speaking at the annual conference in Tel Aviv of the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, on January 19, 2016.
Chen Galili / INSS

The government leaders’ “inability to think out of the box” is the main threat facing the country, Education Minister Naftali Bennett declared at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies on Tuesday.

In particular, Bennett, who also heads the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, criticized the diplomatic and security policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

"The main threat to Israel," he explained in his speech at the conference, in Tel Aviv, "comes neither from the north nor from the south, not from the rockets of Hamas and Hezbollah, and not even from Iran. It’s not diplomatic stagnation that’s our main threat, but our stagnated thinking. It’s not the murderers who attack our citizens on the streets of Israel and have brought the concrete barricades into the heart of Jerusalem – but rather our conceptual barricades. Instead of shaping our future with our own hands, Israel is being dragged along, behind the existing situation. That, in my opinion, is the greatest danger to our security.“

Sources close to the prime minister attacked his remarks. “We snickered after hearing Bennett’s words,” said Netanyahu associates. “Once again Bennett is repeating his familiar pattern of behavior. He hears ideas that come up in various forums with the prime minister and then uses them as his own.”

The sources noted specifically that the issue of not granting immunity to Iran in the event of a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon is a subject that was discussed in the security cabinet, as was the possibility of changing the policy of the siege in Gaza. “These are all things that came up in the cabinet and now he’s presenting them as his own ideas," they said. "It’s simply absurd."

In his speech, Bennett praised the Israel Defense Forces and its top brass, but warned that the assumption that Israel has the best army in the world “doesn’t make the strategy of security policy leaders right.”

Israel’s enemies, he added, are not standing still: Extremists are becoming more powerful at the expense of stability in various countries, while, "on the other hand, our enemies’ creativity – their determination and their revitalization – are growing and improving.”

The innovations of Israel's enemies, Bennett noted, makes Israel’s slow-paced improvements irrelevant.

“Israel has remained behind. That’s why we have to renew our thinking, not only our weapons,” he said. “All the extremely expensive F-35 planes won’t help against 50 [Palestinian] commandos digging a path to Netiv Ha’asara [an Israeli community on the border with the Gaza Strip] We must create an innovative, creative and clear security concept.”

Israel's problems stem from what the economy minister called the preconceptions of senior government decision makers.

“During Operation Protective Edge [in Gaza in 2014], I became aware once again in the cabinet room of the gap between the quality of the commanders and the fighters, and the quality of the strategic concept within which they operated," he said. “The orders and plans we handed down from above paled in comparison to the heroism and determination of the fighters. While we knew that there were booby-trapped tunnels reaching into our territory, we remained captive to the idea that Hamas was not interested in using them.”

Added Bennett: “Day after day there were briefings to the media to the effect that Hamas had been deterred and that it hadn’t anticipated the intensity of our response. But all that didn’t prevent Hamas from continuing to fire. Even when we called for lulls in the fighting, it was Hamas that violated them, every time. Even when we agreed to a cease-fire, they rejected it. And it was Hamas that was interested in renewing the battle.

“At the same time, those same tunnels that we said they wouldn’t dare to use, made us realize our mistake. The tunnels weren’t a contingency plan – they were a new front While the commanders in the field were pleading to continue to take steps to destroy the tunnels, the [political] leadership forced them time after time to stop, to hold fire, to mark time The result was the absence of a victory and an unpleasant feeling that spread among Israeli communities.”

According to Bennett, Israel's political leaders must “recalculate” and examine their basic assumptions on all fronts. To that end, he presented a series of questions in his speech that should be considered by those leaders.

“Who is our enemy? For example, in the north,” he asked. “Should we accept the assumption that Hezbollah is the enemy? After all, we were told repeatedly that Iran is the enemy, and that Hezbollah is nothing more that its executive arm. So if that’s the case – should we should discuss whether to invest all our efforts in fighting the executive arm, while we create a 'zone of immunity' for the enemy itself? We must ask ourselves how it’s possible that in every confrontation with Hamas and Hezbollah, we bleed, but the head of the octopus has enjoyed immunity so far.”

Bennett also suggested that the country's leadership reexamine the policy of closure vis-a-vis Gaza: “Isn’t it preferable to accept the situation and to sever our responsibility for two million Gazans? To open horizons so that they can live – with proper security monitoring?”

The state budget should also be reexamined, he said, to see whether it reflects the proper order of priorities. For example, he called to divert funding for acquisition of war materiel to certain legal and information-related fronts: “We are grievously under-invested when it comes to the law and to awareness ... [which should be] core ingredients" in determining political policies."