“Our soldiers are more afraid of the military advocate general than of Yahya Sinwar,” were the exact words Naftali Bennett used at a press conference in which he announced his decision to stay in the government despite his earlier ultimatum that he would leave if not appointed minister of defense. Bennett’s accusation that the problem with Gaza lies not in the government’s policy, or lack of one, but in the fear IDF soldiers have of being prosecuted is a problematic and dangerous statement for anyone who professes to be the best fit for the job of minister of defense. His assault against the military advocate general proves once again that the only real strategy Bennett maintains is one where you blame legal advisers for any lack of governance, or in this case, the IDF’s failure to weaken Hamas.

It seems that as far as Bennett is concerned, it is the jurists who block IDF soldiers and prevent them from defeating Hamas. This, of course, is a simple and empty way of thinking about the conflict. Israel’s ongoing dispute and constant struggle in the Gaza Strip does not have a simple solution. The situation involves a wide range of elements that need to come into consideration including economic, humanitarian, security, and political factors. What is required from the leadership, especially from the minister of defense, is to conduct an informed study of the circumstances and to examine as many alternatives as possible to formulate a strategy with a clear vision. Of course, the leadership also needs to have the courage to implement the chosen strategy and be willing to take responsibility for it.

Bennett’s attempt to link the current difficulties the government is having in Gaza with the apparent fear that the military attorneys place on the soldiers is the exact opposite of the behavior expected for this required leadership. This kind of short-sighted perspective gives the illusion that the conflict is none other than a simple battlefield where two military forces stand opposite each other, with the IDF waiting for the legal advisers’ approval before firing the first bullet. When an attorney or legal advisor is in the war room, he or she cannot say “I do not approve;” but rather can only advise , the responsibility is on the commanders. Furthermore, it hides the true complexity in a struggle against a terrorist organization that operates under the shield of civilians in densely populated areas, and it ignores the moral questions that arise in such an arena. But for the most part, it makes Bennett look as though he doesn’t fully understand the depth of the issue.

The military advocate general’s office does not determine the policy in Gaza; that is the role of the government. The purpose of the legal advisor is to help the army fulfill its missions and deal with security challenges in accordance with Israeli and international law. Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said this himself when responding to Bennett’s accusation, reminding him that “the military advocate general does not weaken the army but is part of the IDF’s strength, and stands by the IDF helping the commanders and soldiers realize their operational mission and win the war.” Former IDF Spokesperson Avi Benayahu added, “The army needs to be capable of operating in an environment that is constantly changing. We operate in the vicinity of cameras, human rights organizations, the United Nations, media, and more. The role of the army is to win while staying human, not to be duped, but to do things according to the procedures we have set for ourselves.” The legal advice provided by the military advocate general’s office to the IDF is not an obstacle or evidence of weakness, but rather a vital component of the IDF’s strength and ability to protect the country’s security.

Bennett mentioned that the soldiers “fear” the advocate general. On this matter, it is important to understand that fear often results from uncertainty and insecurity. In this context, leadership also plays an important role. The soldiers should be given clear and legal orders, and only by their commanders; politicians cannot get involved. When Bennett says that “the IDF soldiers are the moral compass, not the military advocate general,” he brings on more confusion than clarity. Such a statement implies that the IDF soldiers are enlightened martyrs and that the truth lies with their every decision, making them think that they are allowed to do as they wish. It is as if they need no guidance or code of conduct. IDF soldiers risk everything to protect Israel’s citizens, but they are only human, not to mention 18 to 21 years of age.

Due to the principle in the IDF that no action shall be judged when taken under pressure and in a life-threatening situation in the wisdom of hindsight, a vast majority of the inspections conducted regarding combat incidents in which civilians were injured end without a trial. Such circumstances usually include those where soldiers shot at Palestinians who ran towards them while not responding to warning calls but turned out to be  unarmed. On the other hand, soldiers who abused bound detainees were tried before military courts. There are obvious distinctions between these situations, and they need to remain clear. The leadership’s role is to make sure that the soldiers understand that they will receive full support, even if they err in fulfilling their duties, as long as they acted in good faith in the framework of the orders they received. But an additional message must be conveyed, and that is that if they deliberately violate orders and act unprofessionally, they will be held accountable.

Bennett often uses the military jargon of combat unit graduates. The worldview he presents is that of a commander at the field level. However, field commanders don’t need to take in to account broad considerations that higher-level commanders or cabinet members must. Field commanders are not responsible for providing soldiers with all that they need to succeed and stay safe. That is the job of the defense minister.  A defense minister understands the importance of a robust military advocate general for the soldiers’ safety and does not see him or her as some annoying pest that should be removed. A perspective of this kind is perhaps what a squad commander or a company commander may hold, but not a defense minister. And certainly not the defense minister of an army operating within a civilian population in times when every event is photographed and widely reported.

Bennet probably knows all of this, which is why his recent assault is nothing more than a political move, a way not to look weak after failing to grab the role of the defense minister and caving to Netanyahu. The military advocate general is just the new scapegoat on which he can hang his ministerial frustrations. But this kind of politicization can bring on dangerous implications. When things become unclear and when soldiers are not sure to whom they are supposed to listen, their commanders or their politicians, people can die. This type of behavior shows that the real problem is not the “judicialization of the army,” as Bennet calls it, but rather the politicization of the army.