Calls to Fire Minister as Fallout Over Gaza Operation Continues
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Ofer Akunis (Likud) has called for Tourism Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) to be fired, over comments he made claiming Israel "lost" its recent battle with Hamas.
The latest coalition spat illustrates the growing tension within the government between ministers supportive of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's decision to accept a ceasefire with Hamas, and those to the right of him who believe such a decision was a terrible mistake that sent a message of weakness to Israel's enemies and squandered an opportunity to root-out terrorism from Gaza completely.
At the end of last week, Landau became the latest minister to launch a scathing criticism of Israel's military and political leadership in an interview with Channel 10.
"If I was a member of the (security) cabinet I would have voted against the ceasefire. Plain and simple," said Landau.
"In the course of the operation they didn't set goals or where we're going, and the main goal that the prime minister set - 'quiet in return for quiet' - was only partially achieved. It is reasonable to assume that there will not be quiet in the south for an extended period of time," he continued, referring to the fact that every previous "long-term" ceasefire with Hamas lasted for only a relatively short time before rocket fire from Gaza resumed.
"There is no question that there were achievements," he qualified, noting the harsh military blow dealt to terrorist groups in Gaza, "but when we declared a ceasefire I became very worried and disappointed."
He asserted that the government had missed the opportunity to finish off Hamas once and for all due to its "stuttering" strategy, which emboldened the terrorist group to keep on going. "And so, as they are rejoicing in Gaza, the residents of the Gaza Belt are hesitant to return to their homes in the the south... something here is not right, and we need to ask where we went wrong."
"Throughout the operation we responded hesitantly... during the ceasefires and the limited ground offensive. The conduct and message that Israel wants quiet at any price transmitted weakness to Hamas, as if we weren't prepared to fight. The Hamas (leadership) sat in a bunker and set conditions in Cairo and Gaza, and we waited for them to hold fire. What is this? The (military) forces in the field were ready to fight, they wanted to fight, but the weakness we transmitted harmed and gnawed away at Israeli deterrence."
An angry Akunis fired back Sunday that "Minister Landau doesn't miss an opportunity to say that Israel lost and lost its deterrent capability. Statements like these from a government minister are harmful and dangerous, and damage the interests of the State of Israel."
He said Landau's words were "not in line with his responsibilities as a minister in the Government of Israel", and called to fire him "immediately" from the government in the name of "decency and ethics."
The prime minister has weathered a storm of criticism by nationalist coalition partners, including some more hawkish members of his own Likud party. During the course of the operation he fired Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) over the latter's withering criticism of Netanyahu's leadership, which the PM claimed was inappropriate at a time of war.
Even the Security Cabinet was reportedly split down the middle regarding the ceasefire proposal with Hamas - which Netanyahu accepted anyway without a vote, much to the anger of those opposed.
Those members of Landau's Yisrael Beytenu party who are Security Cabinet members - Foreign Minister and party head Avigdor Liberman, and Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich - were among those vehemently opposed to the move, alongside Jewish Home party leader and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett.