Israel: Liberman: Government has given ‘immunity’ to terrorist leaders in Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Liberman: Government has given ‘immunity’ to terrorist leaders in Gaza

In final volley, outgoing defense minister rails against security cabinet, says Hamas will become like Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah terrorist army

Outgoing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman addresses soldiers during a farewell tour of the Gaza border region, November 16, 2018 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Outgoing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman addresses soldiers during a farewell tour of the Gaza border region, November 16, 2018 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

In a final shot as defense minister, Avigdor Liberman on Friday lambasted his former colleagues in the security cabinet, saying they’d “effectively” given the leaders of the Hamas terror group “immunity” during this week’s intensive round of violence.

“It simply makes no sense that after Hamas launches some 500 rockets at Israeli communities outside Gaza, at the south of the country, the heads of Hamas effectively get immunity from the Israeli security cabinet,” he said during a farewell visit to the south.

Liberman, who tendered his resignation on Wednesday, also warned that Israel’s policies toward Gaza were threatening to allow the Hamas terror group — considered by the Israel Defense Forces to be a comparatively minor strategic threat in terms of raw military power — to become akin to Lebanon’s mighty Hezbollah terrorist army, which is seen as the Jewish state’s main rival in the region with an arsenal of over 100,000 mortar shells, rockets and missiles.

“We are currently feeding a monster, which if we don’t stop its rearmament and force-building — in a year we will get a twin to Hezbollah — with all that entails,” he said.

Officials assess the damage to a house after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, Israel, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Liberman made his remarks on Friday afternoon, hours before his tenure as defense minister came to an end, following meetings with officers and soldiers from the IDF’s Gaza Division and with civilian security officials from the communities near the Gaza Strip.

On Wednesday Liberman announced he was resigning as defense minister— a position he’s held since May 2016 — specifically citing the government’s policies toward Gaza and its rulers Hamas as the main reasons why.

The defense minister’s resignation came a day after a de facto ceasefire went into effect, ending a 25-hour flare up that saw the largest-ever barrage of rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel, killing one and injuring scores more.

Outgoing defense minister Avigdor Liberman addresses soldiers during a farewell tour of the Gaza border region, November 16, 2018 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“For the past two and a half years, I have bit my tongue. I tried to change things from within, but the last two decisions — on the transfer of $90 million to Hamas over the next six months and the decision on the ceasefire — these were two decisions that went too far,” he said.

Liberman was referring to a decision to allow Qatar to send funds into Gaza, which was meant to pay salaries of Palestinian civil servants in the Strip — after the Palestinian Authority decided to withhold those funds in a bid to punish its rival Hamas.

Earlier this month, the first batch of Qatari funds — $15 million — was brought into Gaza, which was seen as embarrassing for the Israeli government when pictures of the cash in suitcases were released to the media.

On Friday Liberman said “the moment the money crosses the border with the Strip, there is no oversight of it.”

He added, “It is purely $15 million of terror funding.”

Gal Berger גל ברגר

@galberger

Exclusive: 3 suitcases w 15 million dollars in cash entered Gaza today w the Qatari envoy through Israel (Erez crossing point). The money goes to Hamas, to pay salaries of civil employees. Exclusive pic:

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The outgoing defense minister noted that the first people to receive payments from the Qatari funds were families of Palestinians killed during clashes with Israeli troops on the Gaza border, not civil servants.

In the months prior to the flare up, Liberman had repeatedly and publicly called for a military operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, claiming it was the only way to return calm to the communities in southern Israel, which have periodically been pummeled by fusillade of rockets and mortar shells.

The defense minister reiterated this position on Friday, saying Israel should have launched a military campaign against Hamas this summer, with the end of the school-year.

Palestinians inspect a crater caused by an Israeli airstrike earlier this week during fighting with Palestinian terror groups, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 14, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

“It’s not a secret, I thought that right after the tests, right after the school exams in July, we needed to deal a strong blow [to Hamas] — and we didn’t do that,” he said.

In Friday’s press conference Liberman also responded to a question about a claim he made prior to becoming defense minister, that he would give Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh 48 hours to return two Israeli civilians and the remains of two IDF soldiers currently in the terrorist group’s custody in Gaza and assassinate him if he didn’t.

Asked if he’d brought up the plan during security cabinet meetings, the defense minister coyly responded that he “didn’t remember.”

Without mentioning him by name, Liberman also appeared to attack one of his main political rivals, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is now vying to take over as defense minister.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a Jewish Home party faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 5, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“The same people who would torpedo every decision [in the security cabinet], every tough choice in the cabinet’s discussions in the evening, would appear the next morning on talk shows and ask, ‘What about the 48 hours? What about Haniyeh?’” Liberman said.

In his resignation, the defense minister decried the decision to accept a ceasefire from Hamas on Tuesday, rather than launch a larger counter strike, saying it was a “capitulation to terror.”

He brushed off the arguments made by some defense analysts that the government refrained from conducting a campaign against Hamas in Gaza because it preferred to focus the military’s intentions on threats in Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

“It’s all excuses,” he said.

The defense minister reiterated his position that his issue was with the cabinet’s decisions, not with the military’s actions or abilities.

“The blame cannot be rolled onto the IDF. The responsibility is on the political leadership. The IDF is subordinate to the political leadership’s decisions,” he said.

According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over on Monday and Tuesday — more than twice the rate at which they were launched during the 2014 war.

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens and causing significant property damage.

Fire and smoke billow following Israeli air strikes targeting Hamas infrastructure in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, near the border with Egypt, on November 12, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

In response, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”

The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, which was announced by Hamas on Tuesday evening but not officially confirmed by Israel, appeared to largely be holding as of Friday morning. However, the Israeli military kept reinforcements in place and ordered troops to remain on high alert out of concerns that border violence may again break out.

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Israel: Defense Minister Liberman resigns over disagreements with Prime Minister

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Defense Minister Liberman resigns, says Israel ‘capitulated to terror’ in Gaza

Yisrael Beytenu leader slams ‘drastically inadequate’ response to massive rocket fire on south, calls for elections as soon as possible; Netanyahu to take over defense portfolio

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman announced Wednesday that he would be resigning as defense minister and called for the government to be dismantled and for new elections to be set.

“I am here to announce my resignation from the government,” he said at a hastily organized press conference at the Knesset after a Yisrael Beytenu party meeting, during which he told MKs of his decision.

Liberman said his decision came in light of the ceasefire reportedly agreed on Tuesday between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza following an unprecedentedly fierce two-day barrage of over 400 rockets fired by Hamas and other terror groups toward Israel.

A day earlier, Liberman and other ministers severely criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the decision.

“What happened yesterday, the ceasefire, together with the deal with Hamas, is a capitulation to terror. There is no other way of explaining it,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“What we are doing right now is buying quiet for a heavy price with no long-term plan to reduce violence toward us,” he said of the deal, which wasn’t officially confirmed by Israeli officials. He also slammed the military’s response to the rocket fire. “To put it lightly, our response was drastically lacking to the 500 rockets fired at us,” he said.

Fire and smoke billow following Israeli air strikes targeting Hamas infrastructure in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, near the border with Egypt, on November 12, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Liberman also directly criticized Netanyahu, saying he “fundamentally disagreed with him” on a number of key issues, including the government’s allowing $15 million to be transferred in cash from the Qatari government to Hamas on Friday.

“I opposed it. The prime minister needed to write an executive order for it to go above my head,” Liberman claimed, saying that the money went first to the families of Hamas members killed on the Gaza border in clashes with the IDF and then to funding for rockets to fire at Israel.

He said that he made his decision because “I could not remain [in office] and still be able to look residents of the south in the eyes.”

Liberman concluded his prepared statement by calling for elections to be held “at the soonest possible date.” During a subsequent question-and-answer session he predicted that right-wing voters would “see through the other parties’ hypocrisy” and reward his Yisrael Beytenu party with 20 Knesset seats.

A Likud source said in response that there was “no need to go to elections at this time of sensitive security,” despite the coalition losing five seats with Yisrael Beytenu’s expected exit.

After Yisrael Beytenu’s pull out, the coalition will hold a paper-thin majority in the 120-seat Knesset. New elections must be held by within the coming 12 months.

“The government can complete its term,” the Likud source said in a statement. “In any case, in the meantime, the defense portfolio will go to Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

The Jewish Home party, however, is expected to demand the position of defense minister for its leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

Liberman has clashed frequently with Bennett, whose religious-nationalist party will compete with Liberman’s secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu over the votes of many hawkish Israelis in the upcoming Knesset elections.

The two men have traded barbs repeatedly in recent weeks, with Bennett accusing Liberman of being soft on Gaza and Liberman replying in kind, while also asserting that policy decisions regarding the ongoing violence emanating from the Strip were made by the ministers in the high-level security cabinet rather than his office.

Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu defended his decision to accept a ceasefire with terror groups in Gaza after the worst escalation in violence in the Strip since 2014.

“In times of emergency, when making decisions crucial to security, the public can’t always be privy to the considerations that must be hidden from the enemy,” he said at a ceremony in honor of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion.

“Our enemies begged for a ceasefire and they knew very well why,” he added.

The deal has provoked criticism from within Netanyahu’s government as well as from Israelis who live near the Gaza Strip and want further action against Hamas, the terror group that rules the enclave.

Sources close to the defense minister told Haaretz that he was “incensed” by a briefing in which Netanyahu appeared to indicate that Liberman supported the reported ceasefire.

The security cabinet reportedly agreed to the ceasefire with Hamas on Tuesday afternoon, in a decision that several cabinet ministers later said they opposed. The decision was slammed by some opposition leaders, who called it a capitulation to terror after a deadly two-day conflagration that saw over 400 rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (C) leads discussions at military headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 12, 2018 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Channel 10 reported that at least four senior ministers who attended the cabinet meeting opposed the decision, which was made by Netanyahu without a vote. But Housing Minister Yoav Gallant, who was at the meeting, said the ministers all accepted the decision.

The ceasefire was hailed by Hamas as a victory ostensibly imposed on Israel on Hamas’s terms. Rocket fire at Israel came to a halt on Tuesday afternoon, after two days of incessant attacks.

Liberman, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett proposed an alternative response, but it was rejected by the other ministers at the meeting, according to Channel 10.

An unnamed minister who attended the seven-hour meeting Tuesday told the outlet that no vote had been held to determine the next steps. A source with direct knowledge of the discussions confirmed to The Times of Israel that no vote took place.

The source said there were several disagreements between cabinet members, some of which were the focus of debate for “a number of hours.” The source would not, however, comment on the content of the disagreements.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the security cabinet merely released a statement that read: “The security cabinet discussed the events in the south. The cabinet received briefings from the IDF and defense officials on the [IDF] strikes and widespread operations against terror targets in Gaza. The cabinet instructed the IDF to continue its strikes as needed.”

Missiles from Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system in the south of Israel destroy incoming missiles fired at Israel from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza above Ashkelon on November 13, 2018. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of 25 hours on Monday and Tuesday. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens more, and causing significant property damage.

In response to the rocket and mortar attacks, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”

As news of a ceasefire broke, Liberman’s office put out a statement saying that any claim that he had backed ending Israel’s offensive was “fake news. The defense minister’s position is consistent and has not changed.”

Similarly, Bennett’s office said any reports that he had supported a halt to strikes were “an absolute lie” and that the minister had “presented his resolute position to the cabinet that he has expressed in recent months and his plan for Gaza.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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