Likud Party opposition leader Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu appears to have made a ‘slip of the tongue’ again with his latest comments concerning Israel’s alleged air raid into N.E. Syria. Speaking on the nightly Mabat news program, Netanyahu said that Israel did indeed conduct an air operation in Syria, and that the reasons for doing so have already been divulged all over the globe. Speaking during an interview with Chanel 1 news chief Haim Yavin, Netanyahu said “I was a party in this matter, and from the very first minute gave it my endorsement and my backing”. He went on to say that it is too early to actually divulge all the details of the operation; but when asked if he congratulated the Prime Minister, Netanyahu replied: “personally, I did”.

Needless to say, government officials, from the Prime Minister on down, are furious at Bibi’s “faux pass”, since from the moment the “air intrusion” was announced by Syrian officials, Jerusalem had been mum as far as admitting that such an operation actually taken place. This is not the first time that the former prime minister had made remarks that had gotten him into hot water. These slip-ups have occurred a number of times in the past, both when he was P.M., as well as on other occasions.

Many people, government officials included, are saying that Netanyahu is trying make political capital out of this event, and that Bibi wants to strengthen his party’s political position; a position which has already improved since the end of 34 day Lebanon II war in July/August 2006. Both Kadima and Labor party officials have lambasted Netanyahu for his remarks that “border on national irresponsibility, especially in light of this man’s previous political positions, including Head of State”.

Members of Netanyahu’s own political party, as well as those in more right-wing parties, came to his defense; and some even praised him. Likud parliamentarian Yuval Steinetz, a right-winged political strategist and close friend of Netanyahu, said that his statements “were most unfortunate, but are really nothing more than a storm in a teacup.” Former army general Effi Etam, leader of the National Religious Party, even went so far as to condemn Prime Minister Olmert himself, and said that the ruling government is finding ways to attack their political enemy. “Olmert should examine his own comments made concerning the outcome of the Lebanese war”, Etam said.

Netanyahu’s remarks, as controversial as they were, may not have been nearly as dangerous as ones made by the Prime Minister himself a couple of months back, when during a press conference, he as much as admitted that Israel has nuclear capability. Another Likud member, Gilad Erdan said that although Netanyahu’s remarks “could have been less controversial, they were still mush less dangerous than the prime minister’s in regard to Israel’s nuclear program.”

As the old saying goes, the “cat’s out of the bag”; and now government officials are trying to practice damage control, especially in light of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to both Israel and the West Bank. Bibi’s friend, Yuval Steinitz cautioned everyone to “exercise restraint as we arrive at the Jewish “Days of Awe”. But even Steinitz appears to admit that his friend’s remarks “could have been phrased a bit differently”.

Same old Bibi? It depends a lot on what political card one carries – if one is a party member at all.