‘IDF critics are political opportunists’ – Bennett, Kohavi fire back after growing criticism of IDF

“Some are trying to use the IDF as a cudgel to advance cynical political goals,” said Naftali Bennett. “It hurts our resilience and it’s inappropriate. Stop it.”

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi released blistering statements defending IDF policy and casting critics of the military’s policies as opportunists, on the heels of rising criticism stemming from the death of Border Police sniper Barel Shmueli.

Shmueli was shot at point blank range during a riot at the Gaza border fence last month and died in the hospital nine days later.

A shocking video of the incident, which showed a rioter run up to a hole in the fence through which Shmueli was aiming his rifle, pull out a handgun and shoot the soldier in the head from a distance of less than three feet, widely circulated on social media.

Widespread outrage

His parents, Nitza and Yossi Shmueli, have questioned why the military allowed violent demonstrators to reach the fence, suggesting that restrictive open fire policies stopped soldiers from shooting.

The Shmuelis said they believe Bennett’s policies have essentially tied soldiers’ hands during life-or-death moments in battle, and that the premier should resign.

A number of prominent opposition lawmakers and right-wing activists joined in the family’s criticism, along with some current and former soldiers on social media, angering Bennett and Kohavi.

The public outrage over Shmueli’s death and the criticism of the IDF is highly unusual.

With some 82 percent of Israelis reporting “strong faith” in the army, the military is Israel’s most trusted institution and typically enjoys an exemption from the criticism leveled at other public institutions in the Jewish State, such as the Supreme Court.

‘If you criticize the IDF, there will be no army to protect you’

In a letter addressing IDF commanders, Kohavi said that Israeli society must support the IDF and suggested that criticizing the military’s policies was dangerous and could cause the army to collapse.

“A society that does not back its soldiers and commanders, including when they make mistakes, will discover that it has nobody to fight for it,” he wrote.

Kohavi later visited the Shmueli family at their home in the central city of Be’er Yaakov.

After bungling the soldier’s name in a phone call described as unfocused and distracted by Shmueli’s family, Bennett said on Sunday that he fully supports the IDF.

He suggested that questioning the institution’s decision makers was an inherently political act.

Citing the presence of his critics at Shmueli’s funeral, Bennett said, “There are politicians who cynically create lies and sent political activists to the funeral.

“It crosses all existing red lines. A shame and disgrace.

“The IDF protects us all year round. Our job is to protect the IDF,” he added.

“Some are trying to use the IDF as a cudgel to advance cynical political goals. It hurts our resilience and it’s inappropriate. Stop it.”

‘We don’t accept the results of the investigation’

The head of the IDF’s Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Toledano, paid a condolence visit to the Shmueli family on Friday and presented them with the initial results of the investigation into their son’s slaying.

“It would have been correct to deploy the troops and use them differently once the violent masses reached the defensive wall,” the army said in a statement on Friday.

“At the same time, no issue was found in terms of the rules of engagement, which were not changed at any point before these events or during them.”

Toledano reiterated that restrictions on opening fire were not to blame for Shmueli’s death — rather, the way in which the troops were placed was suboptimal

Although it acknowledged the poor deployment of troops, the investigation exonerated the IDF of wrongdoing. No individuals will be held responsible for the decisions which led to Shmueli’s killing.

“The bottom line is that there is no intention to take [punitive] measures against any commander,” Toledano told Hebrew language media.

The investigation’s conclusions were not accepted by the Shmuelis.

“I don’t believe in the army, I don’t believe in the government, I don’t believe in anyone,” Nitza Shmueli told Channel 12 News Friday.

“I handed him over to the country, and there was no one to protect him…. All the training and all the target practice and all the studies and preparations, it was for nothing.”

She added that she’d torn up a consolation letter from Bennett, and demanded an independent investigation into the circumstances of her son’s killing.