by Michael Bachner
The news that MK Avigdor Liberman, chairman of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteynu party, will be Israel’s next defense minister has rocked the political establishment on the right and left.
Liberman, a tough-talking former ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has sought the Defense Ministry portfolio for years – and appears set to receive it after a deal struck with Netanyahu on Wednesday.
Liberman’s rise followed a tumultuous day of negotiations and backroom deals in which both Liberman and MK Isaac Herzog, chairman of the historically left-wing Labor party, vied for the job of defense minister and the chance to enter Netanyahu’s government.
“I regret the prime minister’s decision. I did not imagine that he would make such a paradoxical and dangerous move,” said MK Benny Begin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio on Thursday morning. “The prime minister has been very proud of what he called ‘a reasonable, balanced and responsible’ defense policy, while Liberman’s statements give an opposite impression.”
Netanyahu received harsh criticism from opposition parties as well, including Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, who blasted Netanyahu for “bartering the most sensitive and important positions as if nothing mattered” in a Facebook post on Thursday.
Liberman was an ally of Netanyahu – the two ran together in a united party during the 2013 election after which Liberman became foreign minister – until they had a public falling out two years ago. The Yisrael Beiteynu party remained in the opposition after last year’s election, and as recently as March Liberman castigated Netanyahu as a “liar, cheat, and con man.”
Liberman has been a frequent advocate for a harsher military response toward Palestinian Authority terrorism, notably against the Hamas terror group that runs Gaza.
“The elimination of Hamas is the primary mission of the Israeli government and as defense minister I will carry it out,” Liberman said before last year’s elections. “We will not reach agreements and understandings with them. The only agreement that can be reached with Hamas is when they are buried in the ground,” he said, adding that such an Israeli policy cannot be implemented when the government is comprised of “a coalition of nerds.”
Meanwhile, reports have emerged that Tony Blair, the Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East and a former British prime minister, colluded with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to push Herzog into the government – a move reportedly designed to facilitate a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority. According to the report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Blair even met with Herzog’s political partner, MK Tzipi Livni, in her Tel Aviv home this week, despite the fact that she is sitting shiva – the Jewish mourning ritual – for her brother.
Liberman is set to replace current Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a senior Likud member who has recently clashed with Netanyahu over a series of issues related to the IDF’s independence from the political establishment.
Ya’alon, apparently alluding to the news of his ouster, said on Thursday that Israel is facing a crisis of leadership. “There is a loss of our moral compass on basic issues,” Ya’alon said. “If I had to give a golden tip, it would be to navigate with a compass rather than a weather vane. Navigation with a compass is tried and true, and it’s also a question of leadership.”TPS / Tazpit News Agency