Netanyahu Skips Israeli Army Event as Defense Minister Warns of Iranian Threat in the North

In unusual step, Netanyahu does not participate in annual event with top military brass ■ Lieberman: Israel faces unified front by Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and Lebanon

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a regional development conference in Dimona, southern Israel, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was notably absent from an Independence Day event with the Israel Defense Forces' top brass on Monday, breaking with tradition from previous years.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman did attend. He told the IDF staff that Israel faces a unified threat in the north by the "Lebanese army, which is cooperating with Hezbollah, the Syria army, the Shi'ite militias and above all, Iran. Together they form one front that is unified against Israel's northern front."

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According to Lieberman, this is the foremost strategic challenge facing Israel, "which requires all of us – the army and the defense ministry – to step it up and increase our preparedness."

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman attends Independence Day event with Israel Defense Forces staff
אריאל חרמוני / משר

Lieberman also praised the army for being the "best and most moral army in the world facing complex and asymmetrical challenges and allowing the people of Israel to live their lives in security."

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The army was informed relatively late that the prime minister would not be attending the event. Netanyahu's office said he could not participate due to "scheduling constraints."

Sources close to the prime minister say he did not attend because of important diplomatic meetings as well as a brewing political crisis. Netanyahu is also expected to meet the Israelis who will light the honorary torches at the official Independence Day event on Wednesday evening.

According to his schedule, the prime minister did find time on Monday to meet with a citizens' group called Israel and his office said he would find a time to meet the army staff in the near future.

Netanyahu is scheduled to give a speech later on Monday in honor of Israel's 70th Independence Day.