Netanyahu: IDF Probe of Palestinian's Shooting Must Consider 'Difficult Operational Circumstances'

Partially backtracking from his initial comments, prime minister says 'questioning IDF's morality is outrageous and unacceptable.'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting. March 27, 2016.
Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he was certain that the army's murder investigation into the Hebron shooting of a prone Palestinian assailant last week by an Israeli soldier will take into account the fact that "IDF soldiers deal with bloodthirsty murderers under difficult operational circumstances."

Speaking at the beginning of the government's weekly meeting, Netanyahu said "questioning the IDF's morality is outrageous and unacceptable IDF soldiers, our children, maintain a high moral standard when they deal with bloodthirsty murderers." Addressing the ongoing military probe into the incident, Netanyahu said he was "certain that in this case, like in every other case, all of the circumstances are taken into account. Thus we must all support the IDF chief of staff, the IDF and the soldiers that protect us."

Israeli soldiers surround the body of one of the two Palestinians who were killed after attacking a soldier in Hebron, March 24, 2016.
AFP

Netanyahu's comments were a backtrack of sorts from his initial response to the incident in Hebron on Thursday, at which time he claimed that the soldier's conduct does not represent the army's values and even insinuated that the soldier failed to act in accordance with the military's open-fire rules. On Saturday, Netanyahu began backpedaling from his initial response, writing on his Facebook page that "IDF soldiers stop terror attacks with their bodies on a daily basis and deserve our every support."

The change in Netanyahu's rhetoric stems from veiled yet sharp criticism voiced against himself and the defense minister from within government ranks, and even from within his Likud party. Minutes before the government's meeting began, minister Ofir Akunis and Miri Regev said the soldier was being convicted in the court of public opinion without due process by "senior commentators" and "politicians."

"The fact that politicians, senior as they may be, have judged and convicted the soldier is unacceptable," Akunis said. "These things must be resolved in court. A dead terrorist is preferable to dead soldiers."

Regev for her part added that the "soldier is standing up against the fire of commentators and politicians. Only after the investigation will we be able to decide if the soldier acted properly or not. In the meantime, we must support him."

Education Minister Naftali Bennett also voiced thinly veiled criticism at Netanyahu and Dfense Minister Ya'alon without directly naming either: "This soldier was sent by the State of Israel to defend against terror during war," he said before entering the meeting. "That some of this country's leadership has jumped to conclusions before the trial is a mistake and are dancing to the tune of B'Tselem [the human rights group that filmed the incident] instead of the truth. It is imperative that event at this stage the IDF will investigate the issues in a clean and unbiased manner so the soldier receives a chance at justice.

"Talk of a murder charge against a combat soldier during a combat operation is a moral mistake that blurs the lines between good and evil. I expect his mistake to be mended."

Earlier, an army's investigation revealed that before shooting the Palestinian, the soldier said he needs to die and was even calmed by his fellow soldiers after the stabbing.