Public row between IDF and intelligence chiefs over Gaza conflict warning

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (R) and Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen at a memorial service for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, November 2011.IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (R) and Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen at a memorial service for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, November 2011.

A public row has erupted between the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency over whether or not the army’s top brass receive a warning prior to the outbreak of this summer’s Gaza conflict.

Following the 50-day operation, an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire has largely kept the peace. However, the sudden barrage of Gaza rocket fire which precipitated Operation Protective Edge appeared to take Israel’s military top brass by surprise.

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee has already begun its investigation into the defence establishment and intelligence community’s conduct during the Gaza conflict with senior Israeli leaders giving evidence.

On Friday, Shin Bet officers appeared anonymously on Channel Two’s flagship investigative programme Uvda (Fact), claiming that they had provided a warning about Hamas’s intention to initiate a conflict this summer, several months before the conflict began. It is a claim vehemently denied by military officials and Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon.

In a highly unusual step, IDF chief Gantz sent a letter of complaint to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reiterating that no advance warning had been received and that there is consequently a “crisis of trust” between the IDF and Shin Bet.

Both Gantz and Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen were summoned by Netanyahu and told to end the public nature of their disagreement. Netanyahu said, “We all have a national responsibility for the security of the State of Israel, and we must carry on in full cooperation for the security of the citizens of Israel.”

The public row between two of Israel’s key defence and security institutions is the lead item in this morning’s dailies. Commentators Nahum Barnea in Yediot Ahronot and Yoav Limor in Israel Hayom both criticise the Shin Bet’s pursuit for credit, especially at a time when close cooperation is needed to quell unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank.