Education minister doubles down: IDF soldiers ‘bound by legal chains’

The Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett defended comments he made earlier in the week that there is too much legal interference in Israel’s military decision-making. 

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home Party, touched a nerve when he said in a Nov. 19 press conference that Israeli soldiers were more afraid of Army lawyers than Hamas’s leader. He doubled down on his comments Thursday in an interview with the daily Israel Hayom.

Bennett sparked widespread criticism among the senior government and military echelon when he said Monday, “Our soldiers are more afraid of the military advocate general than they are of [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar.” Bennett also spoke of the need for a revolution in Israel’s defense policy.

But it was his comment about the legalization of Army matters that led to the most backlash. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot immediately condemned Bennett for his comments.

“Compliance with the provisions of the law, even during combat, is the source of the IDF’s strength,” said Mandelblit, who also had served for seven years as head of the Military Advocate General Corps. Eisenkot said the military advocate general and the IDF “stand shoulder to shoulder.”

Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in, tweeting, ““IDF soldiers are not afraid of anyone.”

Bennett, however, has not backed down. “It’s important for me to say that we have a serious security problem in the defense establishment,” he said in the Israel Hayom interview published Thursday. “The hands of our soldiers are becoming more and more bound by legal chains.”

“I stand completely by my words that an excess of legalization is costing us lives,” he said. “Also in Operation Cast Lead there were not a few incidents where because of protections on the lives of enemy soldiers, our own were wounded, or alternatively, the enemy was allowed to flee.”

“The lives of Israelis should come before the lives of enemy soldiers and I say this without hesitation,” Bennett said. “When I see soldiers facing people throwing blocks and retreating instead of firing, something isn’t right.When I see terrorists taking apart parts of the security fence in Gaza and getting away with their lives, this is another sign that something isn’t right.”

On Thursday morning, former Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Yair Golan attacked Bennett for his comments on Israeli radio, saying that “Minister Naftali Bennett weakens the army and the State of Israel. It’s a pity he expressed himself as he did, maybe it’s good for his electorate … It’s very sad.”

“The legal issue never prevented commanders from acting in the field,” Gen. Golan said.