Avigdor Lieberman, head of the far-right party Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) has accepted Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer of the defense ministry. The Israeli prime minister’s offer returns to the cabinet a man who is a past foreign minister and whose vision for the future strains the right-wing limits of Israel’s wildly divided political spectrum.
Israeli politicians are mostly horrified by the appointment. Benny Begin, son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and a longstanding member of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, said that Netanyahu had acted irresponsibly and “dangerously.” Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union (a joint party composed of Herzog’s Labor Party and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah) and who had actively sought his own place in the cabinet, said the policies now pursued would “verge on insanity.”[Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: In a press conference Friday, [Moshe] Yaalon [who resigned as defense minister today], a fellow member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, warned that Israel was drifting dangerously toward extremism.
“I fought with all my might against manifestations of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society, which are threatening its sturdiness and trickling into the armed forces, hurting it already,” he said.
Yaalon appeared to be referring to widespread support by Israeli leaders for a combat medic who shot to death a wounded Palestinian attacker as he lay on a street in Hebron in the occupied West Bank.
Thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv and proclaimed the soldier a hero. Israeli human rights activists called it a cold-blooded execution. The killing was captured on video. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: A former chief of Israel’s armed forces, Yaalon had shored up relations with the Pentagon that provided a counter-weight to Netanyahu’s policy feuds with U.S. President Barack Obama over peace talks with the Palestinians and Iran’s nuclear program.
By contrast, Lieberman – whose appointment has not yet been confirmed – is inexperienced militarily and famed for his past hawkish talk against Palestinians, Israel’s Arab minority and Egypt – an important regional security partner for Israel.
An Egyptian official told Reuters on Thursday that Cairo was “shocked” at the prospect of Lieberman as Israeli defense minister.
Washington struck a more optimistic note on Friday. While praising Yaalon, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington looked forward to working with his successor.
“Our bonds of friendship are unbreakable and our commitment to the security of Israel remains absolute,” he added. [Continue reading…]