Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman criticized Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday morning after Bennett reportedly confronted IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a Security Cabinet meeting about the tensions in the Gaza Strip.
"A politician who seeks to gain at the expense of the IDF chief is the most disgusting thing," Lieberman told Ynet, without mentioning Bennett by name.
The Security Cabinet met Sunday to discuss the tensions on the Gaza border, with the discussion focusing on a response to the incendiary kites and balloons, which have been wreaking havoc in Israel, burning thousands of acres of farmland and wooded areas. While the Cabinet approved a new policy according which the IDF would open fire on any cells launching incendiary balloons and kites, Bennett disagreed with the nature and force of the response.
When discussing the fact children are often among the incendiary balloon and kite cells, Bennett wondered, "Why not shoot anyone who launches aerial weapons at our communities, and at the cells? There is no legal impediment. Why shoot next to them and not directly at them? These are terrorists for all intents and purposes."
The IDF chief responded, saying, "I don't think shooting teens and children—who are sometimes the ones launching the balloons and kites—is right."
"And what if it's an adult identified as an adult?" Bennett asked.
"Are you proposing to drop a bomb from a plane on incendiary balloon and kite cells?" Eisenkot asked.
When Bennett responded in the affirmative, the IDF chief said: "I disagree with you. It's against my operational and moral positions."
Defense Minister Lieberman came out in Eisenkot's defense on Monday, saying that "trying to gain at the expense of the IDF chief means that this person simply has no red line, and I don't think it's even worthy of mention."
He insisted that "I made no mention of names; I have no intention of commenting on any particular person," adding, "I don't remember what happened in the Cabinet meeting."
Bennett's Bayit Yehudi Party hit back at Lieberman, calling him a "weak, confused and transparent. He should focus on eradicating terrorism in the south."
Lieberman criticized his fellow Cabinet ministers for leaking details from meetings to the press. "After every incident, there are those who jump on the bandwagon and come up with wisdom in hindsight," he said. "I think we need to do all of these discussions inside the Cabinet and not leak. We need to talk there and make decisions there."
Lieberman was unconcerned by Intelligence and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz's criticism of him for not proposing a plan to overthrow the Hamas regime in Gaza.
"I have no claims towards one minister or another. In politics, it doesn't matter. Every politician pretends to be the defense minister, and it doesn't matter if he's a government minister or an MK in the opposition. His job would always be to criticize the defense minister," he said.
The defense minister rejected Hamas and Islamic Jihad's claims that Israel has agreed to a ceasefire. "There's no ceasefire. We sent a very clear message to Hamas on Saturday, and it was a kinetic message, not a verbal one. And I hope they got the message," he said. "In any case, the ball is in their court."
"We tried to exhaust all options to avoid a wide scale conflict in the Gaza Strip," Lieberman explained. "We proposed a humanitarian aid package, and we offered all sorts of economic relief measures—of course in exchange for a resolution on the MIAs and POWs issue, so we can return to a different reality. Hamas rejected all of the proposals. So I believe everyone in Israel understands that if the Gaza Strip continues with the friction on the border fence, with the fires, with all kinds of flying objects—we've got no other choice."
While he allowed there was a "dramatic drop in violent rioting and attempts to set fire to lands inside the State of Israel," he noted that "there's no security yet. No certain indication that the message was indeed received."
The defense minister explained a wide-scale military campaign has to have a broad consensus due to the plurality of parties, factions and groups in Israel. "That's the difference between the Six Day War and the first Lebanon War," he said.
Lieberman stressed Israel is "undeterred" of a military operation in Gaza. "Even if it's the most painful operation, the most intense we have to conduct. We're unwilling to continue putting up with this reality," he said.