The government on Wednesday unanimously approved former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter’s appointment as home front defense minister, a day after the Kadima MK resigned from the Knesset in order to join the government. The Knesset was set to vote on Dichter’s appointment on Thursday.
Dichter’s appointment was confirmed in late-night meetings on Tuesday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
With his appointment on Thursday, Dichter joins the inner security cabinet, consisting of Netanyahu, Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Vice Prime Minister Dan Meridor, and Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Begin.
The octet was reportedly split 50-50 between those in favor of a strike on Iran (Netanyahu, Barak, Liberman, and Ya’alon) and those against (Steinitz, Yishai, Meridor, and Begin). Dichter’s inclusion could provide the tie-breaking vote should the issue arise.
Dichter will replace current Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, who is set to take over as Israel’s ambassador to China. Dichter’s Knesset seat will be taken up by Ahmad Dabah, a supporter of the party’s embattled leader Shaul Mofaz who helped Mofaz garner votes among Arab Israelis.
Dichter joined Kadima at Ariel Sharon’s behest in 2006 and twice ran unsuccessfully for the party’s chairmanship, against Mofaz and Tzipi Livni.
“After long internal deliberations, which I haven’t hidden from anyone, I decided to accept the prime minister’s and defense minister’s request to serve as minister of home front defense. I chose to serve the country as best I can, just as I have in the 42 years since I enlisted in the military,” Dichter wrote on his Facebook page.
Netanyahu said he served with Dichter in the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit and trusted that he would do a good job protecting Israel’s home front. Speaking to new immigrants at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday, Netanyahu praised Dichter as someone who had always worked for the security of Israel, and would now be doing so again.
The move would enable Dichter to run for election on the Likud party’s list in the next election, instead of his current Kadima party affiliation. Following Kadima chairman Mofaz’s decision to remove the party from the governing coalition last month, Dichter was reportedly among several Kadima MKs who considered forming a breakaway party that would remain in the coalition with Likud.
Some Kadima officials slammed Dichter’s departure from the party. “Avi Dichter made a mistake when he relinquished his good name in exchange for a minor role in this shameless and cynical government,” read a party statement.
Kadima MK Yoel Hasson called Dichter a “Trojan horse” placed by Netanyahu and said the move prompted “new heights of political disgust.” He said Dichter had sought relentlessly to leave the party, and was the kind of politician who couldn’t bear to sit in the opposition.
An Israel Radio analyst said the addition to the cabinet of Dichter — who as Shin Bet chief presided over the construction of much of the West Bank security barrier, and the gradual reduction of second intifada suicide bombings — was designed by Netanyahu and Barak to boost the government’s security credentials, possibly ahead of an Israeli strike at Iran.
Plainly, too, Dichter’s departure weakens Kadima, the Knesset’s largest faction with 28 seats, but a party long beset by internal rifts. In addition to the failed bid to form a hawkish breakaway faction to join the Likud last month, efforts are ongoing by some within the party to form a dovish breakaway faction under former minister Haim Ramon.