Israel Won't Initiate Military Action in Gaza, Syria, Defense Minister Says

Avigdor Lieberman warns that any attempt to turn Israel's neighbor to the northeast into a base for Hezbollah or Iran will not be ignored

A rebel fighter at his position in Quneitra province, Syria, which borders the Israeli Golan Heights, June 24, 2017.
ALAA AL-FAQIR/REUTERS

Despite predictions that Israel could be facing a military conflict this summer, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a Knesset committee that he will not launch attacks in the Gaza Strip or in Syria in the near future.

“We have a lot of prophets here predicting a hot summer and war in the north and the south,” he told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “I want to make clear that we have no intention to initiate any military action in either the north or the south, but we will not ignore anything.”

Lieberman, however, noted that recent cross-border fire from Syria into the Golan Heights, "either by chance or not, will be met with a powerful response. Anyone who thinks about turning Syria into another base for Hezbollah and the Iranians should think again.”

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Golan Heights shows smoke billowing from the Syrian side of the border, June 25, 2017.
JALAA MAREY/AFP

The defense minister also instructed the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Yoav Mordechai, and his staff not to attend Knesset meetings at the invitation of politicians who have been castigating Mordechai.

The move follows criticism levelled personally at Mordechai and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot by some right-wing cabinet members for what they claim was their role in permitting the expansion of the Palestinian city of Qalqilyah in the West Bank. Among those who criticized the two were Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin and Culture Minister Miri Regev.

“Knesset members and cabinet ministers can’t expect to attack the chief of staff and the coordinator of government activities in the territories and the next day to invite them to a committee,” Lieberman said. “I have issued a directive to [Mordechai] and his people: ‘You are not coming to any committee or meet with politicians after they attack you.’”

However, the practical consequences of Lieberman’s directive are unclear since senior defense officials generally don’t have personal meetings with politicians. Their appearances at the Knesset are usually confined to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Lieberman did not specify whether he had instructed Mordechai not to attend the committee's sessions at all or only to avoid meetings where lawmakers who criticized him are present.

The plan for Qalqilyah first came before the planning committees of the Civil Administration, the Israeli body responsible for governing in the West Bank and is part of Mordechai’s office, in April 2013. The decision to open it for public comment – a significant step in the planning process – was made last September by the security cabinet. It was this plan that sparked a political storm this month.