Defense Minister Benny Gantz will summon the IDF's Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi for clarifications on an off the record meeting between the prime minister's senior adviser and a senior military official, amid growing recriminations from the defense minister that he is being sidelined in the new government.
Southern Command General Eliezer Toledano, who will also be summoned, had ongoing contact with the prime minister’s political adviser, Shimrit Meir, with Kochavi’s knowledge but without coordination or proper disclosure of the content to Gantz’s office, as required by protocol.
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Bennett's office said the prime minister's staff "are in constant communication with officials in all the relevant agencies," in accordance with existing regulations. The conversations mentioned in this report "were approved by all those who needed to."
The inquiry process comes in light of tensions between the prime minister and the defense minister since the meeting between Gantz and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas took place in Ramallah in August. Following the talks, the first high-profile engagement in over a decade, Bennett clarified that no diplomatic process with the Palestinians will happen under his government.
Toledano and Meir had met previously two months ago without notifying the chief of staff or the defense minister. At the time IDF spokesman responded that two meetings took place between the officer and the adviser “due to an existing friendship” and added that “procedures as to contacts between officers and the political echelon have been sharpened.” But sources recently told Haaretz that the defense minister’s office recently discovered that the two have been discussing Gaza and the transfer of Qatari money to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants on an ongoing basis. According to these sources, the talks veered into areas that should've involved the Defense Ministry.
Kochavi also authorized Toledano to continue the direct contact between the southern command and the prime minister’s office, without reporting the meeting or content of the conversation to the defense minister’s office. IDF regulations prohibit officers of all ranks to hold personal meetings with politicians and their advisers, save for the Defense Minister, without receiving clearance in advance.
The defense minister will hold an inquiry with all those involved after his office reported these talks had not been coordinated with them. Gantz's office was disappointed with Kochavi's conduct, claiming the chief of staff sidelined the Defense Ministry by opening a direct channel between Bennett and the IDF brass.
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This was not the first time that Bennet's office had broken regulations by contacting senior army officers. The IDF spokesman confirmed that “since last August there have been several phone calls between the two, about professional matters. These calls received the chief of staff’s approval as required.” However, they did not address the matter of notifying and receiving clearance from the defense minister's office.
In the past, Kochavi has disciplined his staff for similar conduct. Last June, the chief of staff reprimanded Lt. General Ofer Winter following reports of a meeting between the officer and then-lawmaker Bennett without notifying IDF command. In November too, Kochavi summoned Lt. Gen. Avi Balut, who at the time was Prime Minister Bennet's military secretary, for failing to report his attendance to a delegation in Saudi Arabia with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen to Saudi Arabia. Kochavi was not notified of Balut’s travel even after the delegation returned to Israel, and the IDF learned of it only from the media.
Last August, a conversation took place between former National Security Council Head Meir Ben- Shabbat and Air Force Commander General Amikam Norkin, in which Ben-Shabbat asked for Norkin’s position regarding the sale of F-35 aircraft to Arab countries. This conversation was another the chief of staff had to read about in the news, even though protocols state that Norkin should have updated him. In response, Defense Minister Benny Gantz sent a harsh letter to Ben-Shabbat, in which he argued that the National Security Council's direct contact with the Air Force commander breached the chain of command and violated regulations.