State Comptroller Joseph Shapira has submitted his report on the security cabinet’s performance during the 2014 Gaza war to a special subcommittee of the State Control Committee. It’s the first of three reports on the war to be sent to the Knesset, after which they will be made public.
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The legal and political problems now plaguing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make the Gaza report especially important. Many associates have suggested that he try to block the document’s release by citing security concerns.
The state comptroller’s auditors have been investigating the 2014 war – Operation Protective Edge – for more than two years. Meanwhile, some of the draft reports sent to the subjects of the investigation have been sharply critical, raising the ire of Netanyahu and senior defense officials.
Last summer Netanyahu tried to blunt the reports' effect by giving press briefings where he contradicted the comptroller’s conclusions and cast doubt on the auditors’ ability to fully fathom the considerations of a leader at war.
The focus since the draft reports began circulating has been the security cabinet’s role during the conflict. Netanyahu and the defense minister in 2014, Moshe Ya’alon, say the ministers received all relevant information on the attack tunnels that Hamas had dug from Gaza. But two ministers, Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid (now in the opposition), say the discussions on the tunnels before the war were shallow.
Bennett says it was he who made the loudest warnings about the tunnels, and his version of events seems to be backed by Shapira’s draft reports. Bennett has used this to try to undercut Netanyahu by arguing that he understands security issues no less than the prime minister.
All this comes amid the revelations in the police’s two corruption investigations into Netanyahu. The prime minister will surely be pleased if the media’s attention is diverted from the investigations, but not if the reason is a comptroller report that undermines a main factor for his electoral success – his image as a man who tamps down security threats. This is why Netanyahu and his loyal emissary, Coalition Chairman David Bitan, may be tempted to try to keep the report under wraps.
The head of the State Control Committee, MK Karine Elharrar (Yesh Atid), is set to convene the subcommittee, which she also heads, to discuss the procedure for publishing the report. The governing coalition has a majority on the panel, which comprises Bitan, MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) and MK Yakov Margi (Shas). The opposition, in addition to Elharrar, is represented by MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union).
The report on the tunnels will be censored because of intelligence concerns, but the report on the security cabinet is considered largely political. Assuming that Bitan is coordinating with Netanyahu, the decision will lie with Margi and Ben Ari.
Netanyahu will have to decide whether trying to censor this first report is worth the risk – the risk that he might fail and also be perceived as trying to withhold valuable information from the public. He’ll surely also take into account the bereaved families’ desire to see the report published. The daily Yedioth Ahronoth has reported that the families of 55 of the 68 soldiers who fell in the Gaza war support the report being published in full.