Photos: AP, Ido Erez
Bennett and Rabbi Rontzki. War reignited lack of appreciation between economy and defense ministers
Photos: AP, Ido Erez

Former IDF rabbi caught in middle of deep conflict over Gaza war

Analysis: Economy Minister Bennett was the only one who professionally challenged Defense Minister Ya'alon's understanding during Operation Protective Edge. Even if he erred in the way he obtained the information, he was often right about the facts.

Whether by fault of his own or not, Brigadier-General (res.) Avichai Rontzki, the former chief military rabbi, became the center of the conflict between Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday.



Before delving into the roots of the conflict between the two ministers, several questions should be asked: What exactly was Rontzki doing in the Gaza Division's area of operation? What was his position there? And how is it possible that even without being called up for reserve service, a citizen – even if he may be a senior officer – dons his uniform and basically calls himself up for duty?


But Rontzki is just the nutshell of a much deeper conflict: The lack of appreciation between Ya'alon and Bennett has been there for many years now. The recent war, it turns out, only reignited it.


Bennett was the only one who professionally challenged Ya'alon's understanding during the war. Even if he erred in the way he obtained the information, we must admit, he was right about the facts quite often.


In a press briefing he held Tuesday, Ya'alon slammed Bennett once again over his criticism against him during the war. "It led to a heavy price in the fighting," the defense minister said. "The other side saw us about to collapse and split. Under no circumstances must ministers talk to officers without my approval and knowledge."


Ya'alon further revealed that a senior reserve officer was disciplinarily punished for "leaking classified information to Bennett."


There is no doubt that Bennett challenged Ya'alon more than once, and it's clear that he managed to do so thanks to reliable information he received from knowledgeable sources in the army during the fighting – information which was sometimes revealed to be more credible that the information presented to the cabinet.


On Tuesday evening, Bennett denied that Rontzki had briefed him, saying that he only had one conversation with the rabbi about "the IDF's fighting spirit." That sounds logical: Rontzki was not in the heart of the military activity and was not exposed to the intimate details. According to estimates, other officers helped Bennett form his evaluation of the situation.


Bennett isn't denying that. He admits that he "went down to the ground" and did not settle for the cabinet briefings. And this perhaps raises the most interesting question: Not if other officers provided him with the information, but if they were even aware of the fact that they were not allowed to talk to a government minister – even one who served as a reserve officer in the special Maglan unit and fought in the Second Lebanon War.


On Tuesday, Bennett settled the score with Ya'alon over the issue of the tunnels. "Since the beginning of the war, we cabinet ministers were not aware of the tunnel threat. I went down to the ground, discovered it, and became obsessive about the issue," Bennett said. "Just ask who agreed to accept the ceasefire without dealing with the tunnels and who was against it."


Bennett claimed that it was his insistence which "saved the Gaza vicinity residents from the tunnels." Ya'alon's associates did not like what they heard.


"Bennett didn't plan anything related to the tunnels and didn't initiate anything related to the tunnels. This are just lies," one of the associates said. "The plan was prepared in advance and presented to the cabinet by the prime minister and defense minister. Minister Bennett is making up fairytales. He used the IDF's commanders and soldiers for political reasons, without understanding the meaning of an army going to war."


פרסום ראשון: 09.17.14, 10:54
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