Speaking at the outset of Knesset's winter session, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett revealed on Monday that Israel's Mossad spy agency launched an operation in September to learn about the fate and whereabouts of Israeli Air Force weapon systems officer Ron Arad, who crashed over Lebanon in October 1986 and was declared missing ever since.
"It was a complex, large-scale and daring operation. That's all there is to say right now. We made another effort on the way to understanding what happened to Ron," said Bennett. Security sources later said that the mission has failed.
Several hours later, the Prime Minister's Office released a statement saying the operation was successful, contradicting previous reports.
"The mission to obtain intelligence about Ron Arad was a successful one carried out while meeting exceptional operational objectives, a statement read.
"Presenting the information to Knesset members and the general public had value, expressing our great effort and commitment to the return of our sons home, even many years after they were captured by the enemy. Dissemination of any other information is a flat-out lie."
Bennett opened his remarks in parliament with scathing criticism at previous governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu, labeling their term as "two years of inaction, procrastination and degeneration". Bennett served as defense minister under Netanyahu between 2019–2020.
This prompted opposition members to angrily heckle him and which resulted in their ejection from the plenum.
Likud MK Galit Distal Atbarian hurled at him: “You are a conman, you are a liar, you are the worst thing that happened to this country.”
Fellow Likud lawmaker May Golan shouted at him: “You are the most failing prime minister we have seen.”
The two were ejected from the chamber alongside David Amsalem, Shlomo Karhi and Keti Shitrit — all of Likud.
The ultra-Orthodox MKs left the plenum at the beginning of Bennett's speech.
Succeding Bennett on the podium, Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu lambasted the government's coronavirus response.
"What does it mean containing the dead?" he asked, referring to a remark Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked made during an interview in which she asked to "contain" coronavirus victims when asked about Israel going into lockdown as infections were skyrocketing.
"It means coming to terms with the death of precious people, not fighting a bitter war against the pandemic, not doing everything to save lives, just abandoning people to their deaths.
Less than four months ago, we left you a country with almost zero deaths per day. But you formed your government and adopted your policy of containment, 1,392 people have died. Most of them could have been saved."
The Likud chairman reiterated his promises to replace the government.
Beforehand, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy spoke opened the session by urging the opposition to cooperate with the coalition in the legislative process.
"The time has come for the opposition to end its sweeping and unprecedented boycott," Levy said. "It is unprecedented for an entire opposition bloc in Knesset to refuse to take a critical part in Israeli democracy."
President Isaac Herzog pleaded with legislators "to find a way to return soon to a respectful, fair and continuous discourse between coalition and opposition, and between opposition and coalition."
I call on you to draw clear red lines in public discourse. Conduct discussions on the essence of things. Stop the incitement, become mentors, instill values and serve as role models."
First published: 17:19, 10.04.21