Netanyahu Confronts Ya’alon Over Remarks To IDF Officers To ‘Speak Their Minds’

Israel's Vice-Premier and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon delivers a speech during a joint press conference with Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg (unseen) on November 24, 2011 in Prague.

TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon resolved their latest spat Monday, following rocketing tensions over the latter’s support of an IDF general who was criticized by the premier.  

According to a joint statement, the two “clarified things. There is no dispute, and there will not be one, that the army is subordinate to the government, and officers are free to express their opinions in the relevant forums.”

Netanyahu summoned Ya’alon the night before to an urgent meeting Monday morning, following Ya’alon’s address to military officers in which he urged them to ignore “political winds,” seemingly in a masked reference to recent comments made by deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan.

“Keep speaking your minds. Do so even if your comments are not part of the mainstream, and even if they stand in contrast with the ideas adopted by the senior command or the government…Continue to be brave, not only on the battlefield, but also at the conference table,” Ya’alon said at a Defense Ministry event.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day two weeks ago, Golan made a comment comparing “trends” in Israeli society to those of 1930s Nazi Germany. The IDF later clarified that Golan did not mean to compare extremism in Israeli society to Nazism.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu maintains Golan’s comments harmed Israel in the international arena.

“The IDF is the army of the people and must remain outside of politics,” the PMO said Sunday night.

Likud ministers lambasted the Defense Minister for his comments.

Culture Minister Miri Regev, a former IDF spokeswoman, said Ya’alon was “confused.”

“Army commanders need to ‘speak their minds’ in the appropriate forums and on the subjects for which they are responsible. It cannot be that an officer on duty will take the reins from the political level and act as though it’s an army that has a country,” Regev stated. “Army commanders are responsible for building and using force, and on those topics they must bang on the table and argue…As a Brig.-Gen. in reserves, I was present in hundreds of such arguments, and that is where a commander can and should have an influence.”

Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio that “this never would have happened with [first prime minister David] Ben-Gurion,” calling Ya’alon’s comments “a miserable mistake.”

Immigration Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin said he “expects the defense minister not to back everything [officers] say, even if it’s a failure, automatically, like a yo-yo.”

“IDF officers are not the national educators, nor are they opinion-shapers,” Elkin added. “Everyone who wears a uniform should fight for their stances on security matters.”

However, some ministers backed Ya’alon including Yesh Atid leader, Yair Lapid, who wrote on his Facebook page that Ya’alon “is right. the IDF is the most moral army in the world, but only because it engages in continuous, open and courageous discussion about its values and the dilemmas it faces.

“Officers may make mistakes sometimes, but thinking officers who make mistakes are preferable to officers who don’t ask themselves questions about values,” Lapid added.

Kulanu MK Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the US, also backed Ya’alon, and said the “separation between the civil leadership and the military in Israel is one of the basic tenets of its democracy and it must be protected.”

Meanwhile, Channel 2 reported that sources close to Ya’alon say this latest sparring could cost him his post.