Defense Minister and Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett on Tuesday told the Kiryat Shmona yeshiva students and the Dean, Rabbi Zephaniah Drori, that the criticism of his supposed lack of decisive action against explosive balloons and rockets which are being launched across the Gaza border at Israeli civilians are unfair, considering his short stint in office, Srugim reported.
“The main problem in Gaza is that they still launch explosives-carrying balloons,” Bennett said. “There was an announcement in Gaza that they are going to stop it – these things are not accidental. What do I not want to do? Start a 3-day round of violence with the whole south sitting in bomb shelters and life goes awry.”
The DM, who had been critical of all his predecessors for preferring containment over responding to every terrorist attack, claimed on Tuesday that he “changed the equation – in the past, Hamas bases were not bombed, not over balloons, only in response to rockets. And I personally approve every target – no more bombing empty dunes, we mostly attack rocket production plants.”
“But I don’t want to be dragged into a round of violence. If and when we do it, it will be at our convenience, in a manner and location which suit us, and it will be very painful,” Bennett vowed, adding, “Don’t stand over me with a stopwatch counting the days, this has to be done properly. After 10 weeks on the job, I don’t want to draw the residents of Sderot into yet another round without a clear purpose, I prefer doing nothing for now. If Hamas does not stop – everything is written down.”
On returning the fallen soldiers’ bodies and the living abducted Israeli citizens, Bennett said: “I set up a team to release our boys. We decided on a series of steps, this will take time.” He then made the commitment (which we’ll repeat for his benefit should he break it): “I won’t hand over even a single terrorist’s body in exchange for their release.”
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Regarding his decision to leave Otzma Yehudit Chairman Itamar Ben Gvir off the Yamina list, Bennett said: “I will not put in the Knesset a person who despises the state. The reason is not his being too far to the right, that’s not the point. His is a perception of contempt for the state institutions, that the State of Israel is not the beginning of our redemption. For example, when you coach the ‘price tag’ offenders on how to evade interrogation – what does that mean? That for you, the Land of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the State of Israel are a burden – it’s terrible, terrible, terrible.”
“Our parents did not make aliyah to Israel to be partisan militia on the Mountains of Israel, because that is what will dismantle us. We collapsed in the days of the Second Temple precisely because everyone obeyed their own laws. And I will not put in the Knesset a person who does not value the State of Israel or has a perception of contempt about it, and sees the IDF and the police as his enemies,” Bennett said.
“Not everything is right in Israel, and what isn’t, I will right as Minister of Defense,” He concluded the Ben-Gvir portion of the event, “But you do not disobey the laws of the State of Israel because you don’t like them. I stand behind this decision, completely, and I will not let anyone dismantle the State of Israel.”
About the disputes regarding religion and state, Bennett said: “There are different opinions and [the Yamina MKs will be free] to vote their conscience.”
Regarding the rumors pushed mainly by the Likud about Yamina’s joining Benny Gantz, Chairman Bennett said: “We will not go with him. We will join a broad unity government. Religious Zionism has been a growing force in every fields except for media and politics. We’ve always been told, ‘Do the fighting but in all matters of national decisions – move aside. As long as you deal with your sectoral issues, fine, but regarding national security, the law, economics – that’s only for the grownups.’ So, eight years ago, we said it didn’t make sense not to be included in national decisions.”
“I served as a company commander, not the religion NCO,” Bennett continued. “So why on the most crucial issue that determines the fate of the Land of Israel and the nation of Israel, they want us to step aside? […] They want us to return to being the state’s religion NCO, to host the weekly religious program on Saturday nights with Chassidic music…”
On the outcome of the March 2 election and the chance to prevent a fourth campaign after this one, Bennett said: “If there is a Netanyahu and Gantz unity government, we will not rule out joining, but we won’t go with Gantz alone. He is not a bad man, but his party’s DNA is left-wing and relatively anti-religious, and that contradicts our views by 180°. If there is a broad-based unity government – we’ll join.”
Provided he is invited. It’s more likely that a Netanyahu-Gantz coalition would leave Yamina out.