Israeli Education Minister Slams Defense Chief's Gaza Policy as 'Weak and Leftist'

Defense Minister Lieberman fires back, says Bennett 'willing to sacrifice both security and education, just to secure a single mandate'

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (left) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett attend a ceremony in 2016.
Gil Eliyahu

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman traded barbs Monday morning amid the looming possibility that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will call for early Knesset elections this year.

In a statement released to the press, Bennett called Lieberman's defense policies "weak and leftist" and accused the defense minister of "pulling the entire government to the left." Bennett, who heads Habayit Hayehudi, also called for the execution of Palestinians launching incendiary kites and balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

"From the first moment, I asserted that we must shoot the kite launchers. As such, Lieberman's restraint is a sign of weakness," Bennett said. "Anyone who launches a balloon loaded with an explosive device is a terrorist to be liquidated and not an 'innocent child.' Because of weak policies like Lieberman's, Hamas grows bolder each day."  

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The education minister continued, "In the last few days Hamas terrorists have launched hundreds of incendiary and explosive balloons over Israeli citizens in the region surrounding Gaza; terrorists are storming the border, throwing explosives and grenades and escaping without a scratch. The time has come for an iron right-wing policy."

Masked Palestinian protesters hold incendiary devices attached to balloons to be flown toward Israel, southern Gaza Strip, September 26, 2018.
AFP

The defense chief responded to Bennett on Army Radio, saying he "does not believe in agreements or cooperation with Hamas." Lieberman went on to say that while Israel maintains contacts with Hamas, he does not believe in them, nor is he a part of them.

“I have made my case more than once to the members of the security cabinet about what should be done in Gaza. In those meetings, discussing the same topics, I have seen that Bennett says the exact opposite of what he says in public."

Lieberman insisted that Bennett should voice his opinions in security cabinet meetings, and not in the media. "It's clear that Bennett has started campaigning. It's decidedly absurd," he said. "An Israel under Bennett will be at the bottom of the OECD. The man is willing to sacrifice both security and education, just to secure a single mandate," Lieberman concluded.

On Saturday, Bennett blasted Lieberman's approach toward Hamas, claiming that his policy is leading to more terrorism aimed at Israel.

"Lieberman's agreements with Hamas have collapsed," Bennett said. "Terror is continuing at the expense of the security of our citizens, due to Lieberman's policy of restraint and his weakness regarding the Gaza Strip. More restraint equals more terror," he continued.

The education minister's attack came amid a mounting concern in Israel that tensions on the border might quickly escalate in the near future and become a full-blown confrontation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel was prepared for any scenario following the border escalation, adding that "this is not an empty statement."
 
Defense officials believe that events in recent weeks have made a full-scale conflict in Gaza significantly more likely. The defense establishment’s view isn’t new. But recent moves by Hamas have strengthened its assessment that the Gaza organization seeks a conflict with Israel, even if only a limited one.

Hamas recently resumed demonstrations along the Gaza border and set up special units to harass Israeli soldiers at night, in the early morning and during periods of fog. These come on top of existing units for tactics such as incendiary balloons, tire burning and naval operations. Seven Palestinians, including a 12-year-old, were killed by IDF fire during Friday's border protests, according to Gaza's Health Ministry.