'Israel Stopped Winning': Bennett Slams Netanyahu, but Won't Quit Government

Education minister drops ultimatum of resigning if not given the defense portfolio, saying that losing to the PM is preferable to losing to Hamas

Ministers Bennett and Shaked during a press conference, November 19, 2018.
Emil Salman

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Monday slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security policy, but announced that they were dropping their political demands and that their party will remain in the governing coalition.

Netanyahu on Sunday assumed the defense portfolio following the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman last week. Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party left the governing coalition over the cease-fire Israel had reached with Hamas in Gaza. Bennett, the leader of the far-right Habayit Hayehudi party, had then issued an ultimatum for Netanyahu, saying that his party would also quit if he's not appointed defense minister.

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"There's no apocalypse on the way. There are enemies, but not an enemy that worries me," Bennett said. "Something bad is happening on the inside, including during the last decade in Netanyahu's governments - the State of Israel stopped winning," Bennett said on Monday.

Justice Ayelet Shaked  arrives ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office, 2018.
\ POOL/ REUTERS

"I saw that with my own eyes during the Second Lebanon War, I saw the mortification and the confusion, the lack of determination, I saw the lack of spirit. That is why I left the high-tech that I loved so much and got into politics," Bennett said, adding that "we impose constraints upon constraints on our fighters, legal constraints and conceptual constraints. Our fighters are more afraid of the military prosecutor than of Yahya Sanwar," referring to the senior figure in Hamas' military wing.

Both Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and IDF chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot rejected Bennett's statements. Mendelblit said he fully supports the military prosecutor, while Eisenkot called to "leave the IDF out of any political argument."

Lieberman himself said after Bennett and Shaked's press conference that "no we all understand why we lost the deterrence." 

Earlier Monday, a source close to Bennett said that he plans to resign from Netanyahu's government if the latter doesn't give Bennett the defense portfolio.

Lieberman announces his resignation as defense minister, last week.
Emil Salman

At the press conference, Bennett acknowledged that he may pay a political price for his decision, saying that "it's better if the prime minister beats us in a political battle than if [Hamas chief Ismail] Haniyeh beats us."

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked spoke about Lieberman's resignation from defense ministry. "We did not run away from responsibility" Shaked said after Bennett, adding "we will not further strengthen the political win that Lieberman gave to terrorist organizations."

In a statement on Sunday, Netanyahu called on the rest of his coalition partners not to dissolve the government. "We are in a particularly complex security situation," Netanyahu said in a press conference. "In times like these, you do not overthrow a government. It's irresponsible. We have another full year until elections."

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, a member of Habayit Hayehudi, told Army Radio earlier on Monday that it seems that Bennett and Shaked are expected to announce their resignation.

"I'm working to change this and reach a reality that Bennett is [appointed] defense minister. It's right for the country, right for security and I hope it will work out," Ariel said, noting that he spoke to Bennett about his plans.

On Sunday Bennet told confidants that he "plans to go all the way" if Netanyahu refuses to appoint him defense minister.

However sources in the Habayit Hayehudi said that the televised statement was an attempt by Bennett to pressure Netanyahu into giving him the defense portfolio; it wasn't clear if he in fact plans on resigning from the coalition.