Ben Shabbat’s behavior here is troubling. It wasn’t a technical oversight — it was a critical error
Photo: Flash 90
The Israeli public is jubilant over the peace deal with the UAE. But the celebration of this major achievement somehow deteriorated into a public spat between Prime Minister Netanyahu and his defense minister, Benny Gantz. To Blue and White’s understandable fury, Netanyahu concealed the negotiations from Gantz for months, leaving his nominal deputy to find out about them in the press like everyone else. Gantz was also shut out of discussions on the US-UAE arms deal — which reportedly includes the sale of F-35s and advanced drones.
Back in June, in complete breach of protocol, National Security Council head Meir ben Shabbat went behind Gantz’s back to discuss the planned American sale of advanced fighter aircraft to the UAE with Major General Amiram Norkin, commander of the Israeli Air Force. Not till late July was Gantz informed — in a routine professional conversation — that Netanyahu had sent a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterating his opposition to the arms deal.
To Norkin, Ben Shabbat seemed to be asking casually about the IDF’s and IAF’s positions regarding the proposed sale, and Norkin made clear the defense establishment was opposed to it. The broader context of the question wasn’t made clear to him, so the air force commander gave it little weight and failed to notify IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.
Only after Netanyahu publicly responded to reports of the US-UAE arms deal did Gantz and Kochavi realize that Ben Shabbat’s discussion with the air force commander came in the course of talks with the Americans, of which they weren’t notified.
Ben Shabbat’s behavior here is troubling. It wasn’t a technical oversight — it was a critical error. He knows the rules well — no shortcuts. He should have routed his query through Gantz, then Kochavi, and only then to Norkin. Even if Ben Shabbat was acting on Netanyahu’s orders, he can’t bypass official channels on a matter of such importance.
That said, Major General Norkin should have been more alert. However casual Ben Shabbat’s question may have seemed, it was incumbent on Norkin to report it to Gantz to avert embarrassment. As it was, there was such confusion in the Defense Ministry that for hours after the initial report of the US-UAE arms deal and then Netanyahu’s denial, they made no statement to the press. They could neither confirm nor deny the reports — because they simply knew nothing about them. The defense establishment, with Gantz at its head, found itself in the dark, puppets in a show run by the prime minister and his trusty Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen.
Senior politicians agreed in off-the-record conversations that this was no way to run a unity government, even if the results are beneficial to the state.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 825)
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