Netanyahu Defends His Conduct in Gaza War on Eve of Critical Report

Netanyahu backs performance of army, intelligence heads and cabinet briefings; raps state comptroller.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly Likud lawmakers meeting, February 27, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday took a shot at State Comptroller Joseph Shapira ahead of the latter’s expected release on Tuesday of his report on the 2014 war in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge.

“In contrast to the state comptroller’s report, I back the heads of the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet and the security establishment,” Netanyahu said at a meeting of Likud MKs.

“No cabinet in the history of the country was briefed more,” he added. “When the cabinet convenes you have to leave your cellphone, small politics and personal interests outside.”

Netanyahu stressed the military achievements of the fighting in Gaza. He asserted that Hamas was dealt the harshest blow of its existence. “We eliminated about 1,000 Hamas terrorists, its top commanders,” he added. “We leveled the towers of terror. We acted with strength, responsibility and with full coordination between the political echelons and the army.”

The document is expected to focus on Netanyahu, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, former chief of staff Benny Gantz and the head of Military Intelligence at the time, Aviv Kochavi. The comptroller’s preliminary conclusions, as released in earlier drafts, included harsh criticism of the army’s preparations to deal with Hamas tunnels, and of a failure to provide the cabinet with information and evaluations regarding the tunnel threat.

Meanwhile, two of the people being criticized struck back at the comptroller. Netanyahu said that in contrast to the report, he was standing by the heads of the IDF, the Shin Bet and someone described as “a former senior minister in the cabinet,” who said the comptroller asked him “Bennett-like questions” (referring to Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett), and wondered what made Shapira qualified to criticize the behavior of the army in the operation. Former Defense Minister Ya’alon also tried to dissuade Shapira from looking into the functioning of the political and military echelons in Operation Protective Edge. Ya’alon believed that an inquiry by the state comptroller would lead to the “politicization of the campaign” and turn it into a tool in the hands of politicians.

Ya’alon has argued that if there is a claim that the political or military echelons failed in the fighting in Gaza, their functioning has to be examined by an official investigation committee. Shapira rejected Ya’alon’s arguments and decided to carry out a comprehensive examination of the decision making process in the cabinet and the preparations for confronting the tunnel threat. Officials in the State Comptroller’s Office, it should be noted, did not examine the army’s functioning during the operation itself, and limited their inquiry to what was done before Protective Edge and at the very beginning.

Comments by politicians in recent days indicate that the report will now be used mainly to bash people politically. Netanyahu said Monday: “The really important lessons are not found in the comptroller’s report, and we are implementing them without announcements and without declarations to the press. We are implementing them thoroughly, continuously and quietly.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said about the report that “the discourse being conducted now about the comptroller’s report is not substantive, but rather a political discussion that doesn’t contribute to security and even, to the contrary, harms the security of Israel.”

Lieberman, speaking to Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset members, added: “None of the announcements by politicians in recent days dealt with drawing lessons but rather in settling scores and making mutual accusations. The report should serve us as a directive for drawing lessons and introducing necessary improvements and not for settling scores. I hope that we will be wise enough to move from a political argument to a substantive discussion about what needs to be improved.”