Israel was unprepared for tunnel threat in 2014 Gaza war, says report
JERUSALEM // An Israeli state inquiry accused prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the army leadership of being unprepared for the strategic threat of tunnels used by Hamas militants during the 2014 Gaza war.
The findings of the two-year inquiry sparked a frenzy among Israel’s political establishment prior to their official release on Tuesday, with critics of Mr Netanyahu using the opportunity to slam the premier’s allegedly flawed decision-making process.
“The political establishment, the military establishment and the intelligence bodies were aware of the tunnel threat and even defined it as strategic. And yet the actions taken to deal with the threat did not match this definition,” state comptroller Yossef Shapira wrote in the report.
The report said Mr Netanyahu and Moshe Yaalon, then the defence minister, did not fully share information they had on the tunnels with other members of the security cabinet, speaking instead in “sparse and general” terms.
The two men also failed to provide the ministers with “significant and essential information,” necessary to make “well-informed decisions” on the situation in Gaza ahead of the war.
Mr Netanyahu has frequently denied such claims, saying he regularly briefed colleagues on the situation. “No cabinet in the country’s history was updated more” than his wartime cabinet, he insisted on Monday to members of his Likud faction.
Destroying the tunnels and stopping Gaza-based Palestinian militants, particularly Hamas, from launching rockets into Israel were the key declared goals of Israel’s third offensive in the coastal territory in six years.
The tunnels were among the Palestinians’ most effective weapons during the 50-day conflict. Some were used by militants to infiltrate Israel and carry out deadly attacks there, while others were used to surprise Israeli forces inside Gaza.
The 2014 war killed 2,251 Palestinians and left 100,000 homeless, according to the UN. On the Israeli side, 74 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers.
Mr Netanyahu accused his political opponents of bringing “petty politics and personal interests” into the realm of security.
Mr Yaalon, who during the war was a close ally of the premier only to resign last year from both the Likud party and political life after an acrimonious dispute, also defended his record. “Those who played politics in the security cabinet in an unprecedented way during the war will continue to do so this week,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
The fallout from the report is likely to pit Mr Netanyahu against coalition partner and political rival Naftali Bennett, head of the right wing Jewish Home party. Mr Bennett has said that he and fellow members of the security cabinet were not properly briefed by Netanyahu on the tunnel threat.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog of Labour said the report put “anxiety and worry in the heart of every Israeli” and proved yet again that “Bibi is a failure in peace as well as in security”,. He called for Mr Netanyahu to resign.
Yair Lapid, another senior opposition figure, said the report was “extremely concerning” and showed Mr Netanyahu had misled the public. “Worst of all, nothing has been done since to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
But analysts doubt the report will have a significant effect on Mr Netanyahu’s governing right wing coalition.
Avraham Diskin, a political scientist from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said he did not expect any major political upheaval or resignations, noting that such inquiries rarely have any dramatic long-term impact.
“The report won’t cause an earthquake,” he said. “Politically, there’s obviously a lot of noise now and in a month we’ll forget about the whole thing.”
the Israeli military found 32 tunnels, including 14 from the Gaza Strip into Israel, according to a UN inquiry on the war. Hamas says it has continued to dig new ones.
The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas continues to be fractious.In the latest flare up on Monday, a rocket fired from Gaza hit southern Israel without causing any damage. The army retaliated by bombing Hamas targets in the Palestinian enclave.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: February 28, 2017 04:00 AM