Prime Minister Naftali Bennett revealed that Mossad agents recently took part in "a courageous mission to gather new information on missing navigator Ron Arad" as the Knesset reconvened for its winter session on Monday.
The Israel Air Force navigator’s plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 and is widely assumed to no longer to be alive. Bennett thanked the Israeli military and the Shin Bet security services for taking part in the mission.
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Thirty-five years on, Arad's fate has not been deciphered. His plane blew up in Lebanon after a malfunction during the bombing of Palestine Liberation Organization targets near the southern city of Sidon, but he and the pilot Yishai Aviram escaped the plane before it crashed. Aviram was rescued by the IDF, but Arad was captured by Shi'ite militia group Amal. It is believed that he was later apprehended by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon.
As Bennett was delivering his speech, Likud lawmakers called the prime minister a "crook" and a "liar" and were removed from the plenum.
In a dig against his predecessor opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett said that Israel had "endured two years of inaction and procrastination."
"Only three and a half months have passed since we started, and it is already possible to see results," he added.
In regard to coronavirus restrictions, Bennett said "it is impossible to live 200 days of lockdowns in a year."
The prime minister added that he opposes "imprisoning citizens in their homes," dubbing lockdowns "a lazy, passive step, with terrible consequences."
Speaking after Bennett, Netanyahu blasted the prime minister for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. "Bennett, you vowed that as prime minister, you would bring about a dramatic change [in curbing the coronavirus]. You were right about one thing—you brought a dramatic change, but a terrible one."
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"If you would have acted on time and brought the third vaccine as we had promised, we would have saved many lives," Netanyahu said.
“"I cry out the cries of more than a thousand families of those who died in vain,’ he added.
Touching on Iran, Netanyahu said: "Bennett and Lapid outrageously committed not to act against the United States’ return to the dangerous nuclear accord...This accord is making Iran a nuclear threshold state that would be able to develop hundreds of nuclear bombs against us."
The coalition's big challenge: the state budget
In its winter session, the government will face a major test in passing the state budget. If it fails to do so by November 14, the law stipulates that the Knesset will be dissolved and Israel will head for new elections.
Before the session opened at 4 P.M., Bennett, Herzog, Hayut and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now leader of the opposition, were set to meet at the offices of Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy. This would be among the first personal contacts between Bennett and Netanyahu since Bennett became prime minister in June. Bennett had a half-hour briefing meeting with Netanyahu the day after the new government was sworn in.
The winter Knesset session was then launched by Levy and Herzog, before speeches from Bennett and Netanyahu.
In his opening speech, Levy said that the "deep disagreements between the camps and the hateful discourse that accompanied us in the election campaigns and in the last Knesset session are still with us today." Herzog, meanwhile, also addressed divisions between Israel's parties: "Yes to substantial arguments, and no to legitimacy for bullying."
When Bennett addressed the Knesset in its swearing-in session, he was repeatedly forced to stop speaking due to heckling from the ranks of the opposition, and Monday's session was no different. Following the president’s departure from the chamber, a motion of no-confidence against the government will be introduced, along with several pieces of legislation.
Lawmakers will then have just over a month to debate the budget in various Knesset committees prior to final votes by the full legislature.
In order to ensure its passage, the government is looking to defer controversial legislation until after they have overcome this landmark test. The party heads in the new coalition government adopted this approach in their coalition agreement, with votes on sensitive bills expected to be postponed until December.
One potentially hazardous piece of legislation would place term limits on the prime minister. Another bill, which would bar the president from calling on a party leader who is under indictment to form a government, could prevent Netanyahu from returning to power.
Although these bills are the subject of the government’s coalition deals, they have been postponed due to disagreements over their wording.
As such, it was also decided on Sunday that the cabinet decision to establish an official committee to investigate Israel’s purchase of submarines from Germany would be postponed until after the budget is passed. The affair involves suspected improprieties by people close to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the navy’s acquisition of submarines and missile ships from the German company Thyssenkrupp.