Netanyahu Rebuffs Criticism of Gaza War Preparedness: I Told Cabinet of Tunnel Threat Months Before

Prime minister says he told cabinet Hamas tunnels were a grave danger six months before 2014 war, as publication of comptroller report looms.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF commanders visiting a Hamas-dug tunnel on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in May, 2016.
Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rebuffed claims on Tuesday that he didn't alert his cabinet of the danger posed by Hamas tunnels ahead of Israel's 2014 conflict with the Gaza Strip. 

"Six months before Protective Edge I summarized the annual intelligence briefing in the cabinet with these words: Regarding the tunnels – abductions and infiltrations of communities are a grave danger," Netanyahu told a press conference. "I established the tunnel threat as one of the four biggest threats against Israel."

The prime minister was speaking against the backdrop of a report by the State Comptroller into the cabinet’s performance and the state’s preparedness for the tunnel threat.

"Here's another conversation we had on Gaza," added Netanyahu," and this is a quote: 'the prime minister concluded that there is an extensive web of offensive and defensive tunnels in Gaza."

The report, which was presented to the State Control Subcommittee on Sunday, is said to be highly critical of Netanyahu and then Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. 

"We handled the operation firmly, rationally, assertively and with responsibility, and the results speak for themselves," said the prime minister.

On Sunday, Haaretz reported that Netanyahu’s aides had been discussing trying to torpedo publication of the embarrassing report by arguing that publication would undermine the principles of information security. On Tuesday, officials in Netanyahu's bureau said he does not object to publishing the unclassified sections of the report. 

Also on Tuesday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed the publication of the comptroller's report, calling it an "earthquake" that will rock the security establishment.

Speaking at the annual Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) conference in Tel Aviv, Bennett said he welcomes the decision to publish the report, which details the threat posed by Hamas’ cross-border tunnels and the functioning of the diplomatic-security cabinet during the 50-day Operation Protective Edge, saying it clearly shows that "the rigidity of thinking among Israel's leaders is the root cause" of the failures noted in State Comptroller Joseph Shapira's report. 

The comptrollers' report grew out of criticism that the Israeli army had been ill prepared to handle a Hamas tunnels network discovered during a 2014 war, that stretched from beneath the Gaza Strip across the Israeli border.

The conclusions of an IDF report  reported in October suggesting that a key reason why that war dragged on longer than anticipated, or 50 days, was because of the army's lack of preparedness to deal with the tunnels.

Hadar Goldin, a missing soldier presumed dead last seen being dragged down a tunnel in the heat of battle, and an instance of the IDF thwarting an attempted armed infiltration via a cross-border tunnel were two dramatic incidents that highlighted the problem.