UK-born ex-IDF spokesman attacks Netanyahu government

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UK-born ex-IDF spokesman attacks Netanyahu government

Lt-Col Peter Lerner says key politicians undermined Israeli credibility globally

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Peter Lerner and IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari. Courtesy: Peter Lerner/X
Peter Lerner and IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari. Courtesy: Peter Lerner/X

In a bombshell interview last Friday, the Israeli army’s former foreign media spokesman, British-born Lt-Col Peter Lerner, charged his government with “helping Hamas directly” by undercutting the country’s public relations work.

Lt-Col Lerner, who returned to the IDF to serve as one of its leading spokesmen immediately after the Hamas attacks on October 7 last year, gave a bitterly-worded interview to Haaretz in which he reviewed the collapse of Israel’s international standing as the Gaza war claimed thousands of civilian casualties.

He told Haaretz: “Netanyahu promised a complete victory over Hamas. But in the international arena he and his government led us to defeat.”

The ex-spokesman, whose military career stretched over 25 years, is one of a number of senior IDF officers who have been strongly critical of the government’s actions, as the war continued into its ninth month.

Lerner, who gave an estimated 750 briefings to foreign press after the outbreak of the Gaza war, said he had come to the conclusion that there was a “loss of international trust in Israel and the government’s failure to maintain widespread support for the war against Hamas over time.”

He told Haaretz of his frustration when dealing with foreign journalists. He said: “I felt like a soldier who goes to guard without cartridges… I didn’t have the ammunition I needed to deal with the interviewers’ questions. I just had to say that I was speaking on behalf of the army, and that these questions are the responsibility of the government. But the government also had no answers, because it was politically inconvenient.”

Lerner reserved particular anger for politicians who he believed had undercut any media strategy Israel might have had. Giving one example, he told Haaretz: “Hamas damaged almost all the power lines that connect Gaza to Israel. We had the opportunity to come and say, Hamas is harming the citizens of Gaza, and we, Israel, will try to fix it, but only if he stops the shooting. Instead, the Minister of Energy at the time, Israel Katz, comes out with populist statements about the fact that he will cut them off from electricity and will not deliver fuel to them either.”

He accused some government ministers of being “a bunch of pyromaniacs who spout nonsense.” He singled out Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu, who said an atom bomb was “one way” to handle Gaza; Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, who proudly said that Israel was carrying out a “Nakba” — the Palestinian phrase for what they see as the “disaster” of Israel’s founding in 1948 and the subsequent flight of many Arabs — in Gaza; and Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, whose office drafted a report on displacing Gaza’s residents.

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