Former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu's associates say he fell victim to a public-relations ambush on Israeli TV Wednesday.
State-run Channel 1 TV’s Chaim Yavin, known for his controversial left-wing documentary “Land of the Settlers,” asked Netanyahu in a live interview why he had not yet congratulated Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the military operation that took place in Syria two weeks ago. Yavin first spoke with Netanyahu about the Olmert government's controversial proposal to divide Jerusalem, which Netanyahu criticized as bringing "not peace, but missiles closer - and Hamas to the heart of Jerusalem." Yavin then said: "With your permission, I'd like to change the subject to the northern front. Listen - we haven't heard you praise Olmert for the operation clouded in secrecy."
Netanyahu: "You don't expect me to say-"
Yavin: "You haven't said a good word to Olmert, maybe because the polls are tipping in his favor, maybe at your expense..."
Netanyahu: "Absolutely not. I think that when the Prime Minister does things that are important and necessary --"
Yavin: "So bless him!
Netanyahu: "-- and generally when the government acts for the security of Israel, I give my support,” Netanyahu said. “And also here I was privy to this, I must say, from the get-go, and I gave my support – but it is too early to discuss this matter and there is time to give all the blessing and specifically --"
Yavin: "Let me understand. Have you blessed him?
Yavin: "For this action?"
Yavin: "OK, we won't elaborate. Because according to foreign reports Israel struck a nuclear facility. Everything is shrouded in secrecy. You are not prepared to elaborate on what you spoke about in your conversation with Olmert?"
(To view the interview in Hebrew, click here. Relevant segment begins at 9:55)
Media Pounce, Political Opponents Stoke the Flames
The hourly news programs on state-run Voice of Israel and Army Radio reported that Netanyahu had been the first to “break the silence” and “acknowledge the Syrian operation,” which had been reported until now solely based on foreign press reports.
Labor MKs such as Eitan Cabel in various interviews slammed Netanyahu’s “stupidity.” Cabel told Army Radio Thursday morning, “This act of stupidity and irresponsibility proves that Netanyahu is unfit for leadership. We are talking about the security of the State of Israel. One does not mess with the state’s security for a boost in the opinion polls.”
Olmert’s office issued an official statement declining to offer a response, Army Radio reported. “Unofficially, however, Olmert associates expressed consternation over the irresponsible statements by Netanyahu,” the 7 AM news report stated.
The France-based news wire service AFP picked up the story and took it a step further, writing that Netanyahu “said Wednesday that the Jewish state had carried out an air strike in Syria two weeks ago and that he had backed it.”
Netanyahu, Allies React
Netanyahu's office responded with surprise, saying he had given no reference to a specific operation nor given any details about it.
MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) accused the media and members of the government of seeking to damage Netanyahu politically by manufacturing a damaging headline against him as the end of the Olmert government grows near.
Other Netanyahu supporters noted that already the day after the attack Prime Minister Olmert had alluded to the operation, saying the IDF “had exhibited extraordinary bravery.”