Netanyahu’s government splinters as security minister calls attack on Iran ‘lame’

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the hard-Right security minister, tweeted the word, 'Scarecrow', in response to the attack
Itamar Ben-Gvir, the hard-Right security minister, tweeted the Hebrew word, 'Scarecrow', in response to the attack - AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

An Israeli minister has described Friday’s attack on Iran as “lame”, in a sign of the growing rift in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Multiple explosions believed to be caused by the interception of drones were reported early on Friday morning over the Iranian city of Isfahan, home to a major air base and nuclear site.

The US later confirmed that Israel had launched a retaliatory assault in response to last week’s attack by Tehran, which involved more than 300 drones, rockets and missiles.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the hard-Right national security minister, quickly dismissed his country’s operation with a one-word post on X, formally Twitter, using a Hebrew slang word that literally translates as “scarecrow” but also means “lame”.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the hard-Right National Security Minister, dismissed Israel's operation with a one-word post on Twitter using the Hebrew slang word "Scarecrow!"
Itamar Ben-Gvir was the only minister to comment on the strike

Tasnim, an Iranian news agency, responded to Mr Ben-Gvir’s comments, saying: “The Israeli authorities are mocking themselves.”

Mr Ben-Gvir is the only member of the government to have spoken about the strike publicly and was quickly condemned for simultaneously confirming the attack, which Israel has not officially commented on, and undermining it.

Yair Lapid, the Israeli opposition leader, said: “Never before has a minister in the security cabinet done such heavy damage to the country’s security, its image and its international status.

“In an unforgivable one-word tweet, Ben-Gvir managed to mock and shame Israel from Tehran to Washington. Any other prime minister would have thrown him out of the cabinet this morning.”

Israel’s Channel 12 also carried quotes from officials in the prime minister’s office saying Mr Ben-Gvir “was and remains childish and irrelevant to any discussion”.

Growing divides

Mr Ben-Gvir, leader of the far-Right Jewish Power party, is symptomatic of wider splits in the Israeli security cabinet about the best way to respond to Iranian aggression and how to proceed with the six-month war in Gaza.

He has become increasingly critical of the government for its handling of the multi-front conflict Israel is engaged in, threatening to topple Mr Netanyahu if the IDF does not enter Rafah in southern Gaza as planned.

He had called for Israel to “go berserk” following Iran’s drone and missile attack on Saturday.

Similarly, Betzalel Smotrich, the finance minister and leader of the far-Right Religious Zionism party, said Israel’s response to the Iranian attack “should rock Tehran, so everyone there will realise they shouldn’t mess with us … this is the language spoken in the Middle East”.

The Telegraph reached out to other Israeli ministers for comment but all refused to speak.

An opinion poll in Israel, commissioned before Friday’s attack, showed the general public are also split on the issue of retaliation, with one poll showing 48 per cent in favour of responding even if it meant expanding the conflict while 52 per cent preferred no response.

Some think the strike has served its purpose.

Tally Gotliv, from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, celebrated the military operation, saying: “A morning of pride. Israel is a strong and powerful country.”

A columnist writing for Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s biggest newspaper, before the attack took place, cited an official saying Israel planned a “pinpoint operation”.

He quoted a Bible story in which King David crept up on a sleeping enemy and cut a piece of cloth from his clothing as proof that he could have struck a deadly blow but chose not to.

Hasan Alhasan, a senior fellow for Middle East policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: “I think it is ultimately a cautionary message that Israel can respond and can get through to Iran if it wants, but it does not want to widen the scope of this conflict right now.”

On the ground in Israel, there are no signs that a further escalation is expected, with the home front command issuing no new instructions to the population.

Kate Leaman, a finance journalist and mother of two from London but based in Tel-Aviv, told the PA news agency she has “had enough”.

“I really don’t want [Mr Netanyahu] to retaliate because I just had enough,” the 45-year-old said.

“Everyone, my friends and neighbours, we just want peace and quiet and just to get on with our lives.

“I do understand that something needs to be done to protect the state of Israel, for its existence and I just wish I could have some peace and quiet for a while for me and my kids.”