Defense minister to deliver statement, sparking rumors he could resign over Gaza
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Defense minister to deliver statement, sparking rumors he could resign over Gaza

Senior cabinet minister reportedly says Liberman’s political career is over if he remains in his position after denouncing ceasefire with Hamas

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in the northern West Bank settlement of Ariel on October 30, 2018. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in the northern West Bank settlement of Ariel on October 30, 2018. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday announced a special faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at noon, after which he is expected to deliver a statement to the media, sparking rumors he could resign over the reported ceasefire with Hamas.

A senior cabinet member told Channel 10 news that Liberman is expected to announce he is stepping down after weeks of disagreements with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the proper course of action in the Gaza Strip.

“He is currently choosing between the end of his career if he stays in his position, and a slight chance of rehabilitating his public image if he resigns,” the unnamed minister was quoted as saying.

Sources close to the defense minister told Haaretz that he was “incensed” by a briefing given by the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday, that appeared to indicate that Liberman supported the reported ceasefire.

Hebrew news outlets quoted sources in Jewish Home who said that the party’s leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, will demand the defense portfolio.

The security cabinet reportedly agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas on Tuesday afternoon, in a decision that several cabinet ministers later said they opposed. The decision was also slammed by some opposition leaders, who called it a capitulation to terror after a deadly two-day conflagration that saw over 400 rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (C) leads discussions at military headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 12, 2018 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Channel 10 reported that at least four senior ministers who attended the cabinet meeting opposed the decision, which was taken by Netanyahu without a vote. But Housing Minister Yoav Gallant, who was at the meeting, said the ministers all accepted the decision.

The ceasefire was hailed by Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, as a victory — ostensibly imposed on Israel on Hamas’s terms. Rocket fire at Israel came to a halt on Tuesday afternoon, after two days of incessant attacks.

Liberman, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and Bennett proposed an alternative response, but it was rejected by the other ministers at the meeting, according to Channel 10.

An unnamed minister who attended the seven-hour meeting Tuesday told the outlet that no vote was held to determine the next steps. A source with direct knowledge of the discussions confirmed to The Times of Israel that no vote took place.

Fire and smoke billow following Israeli air strikes targeting Hamas infrastructure in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, near the border with Egypt, on November 12, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The source said there were several disagreements between cabinet members, some of which were the focus of debate for “a number of hours.” The source would not, however, comment on the content of the disagreements.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the security cabinet merely released a statement that read: “The security cabinet discussed the events in the south. The cabinet received briefings from the IDF and defense officials on the [IDF] strikes and widespread operations against terror targets in Gaza. The cabinet instructed the IDF to continue its strikes as needed.”

Hamas and other Gaza terror groups said earlier Tuesday afternoon that they had accepted an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire with Israel. Terms of the deal were not immediately known, and there was no immediate comment from Jerusalem. But a senior Israeli diplomatic official appeared to confirm the reported armistice.

“Israel maintains its right to act. Requests from Hamas for a ceasefire came through four different mediators. Israel responded that the events on the ground will decide [if a ceasefire will go into effect],” the official said, on condition of anonymity.

Hadashot TV news said Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had urged Israel behind the scenes to accept the ceasefire.

Missiles from Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system in the south of Israel destroy incoming missiles fired at Israel from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza above Ashkelon on November 13, 2018. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of 25 hours on Monday and Tuesday. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens more, and causing significant property damage.

In response to the rocket and mortar attacks, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”

As news of a ceasefire broke, Liberman’s office put out a statement saying that any claim that he had backed ending Israel’s offensive was “fake news. The defense minister’s position is consistent and has not changed.”

Similarly, Bennett’s office said any reports that he had supported a halt to strikes were “an absolute lie” and that the minister had “presented his resolute position to the cabinet that he has expressed in recent months and his plan for Gaza.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a Jewish Home party faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 5, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Liberman has recently been harangued repeatedly by Bennett, whose religious-nationalist Jewish Home party will battle with Liberman’s secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu over the votes of many hawkish Israelis in the upcoming Knesset elections.

The two men have traded barbs several times in recent weeks, with Bennett accusing Liberman of being soft on Gaza and Liberman replying in kind, while also asserting that policy decisions regarding the ongoing violence emanating from the Strip were made by the ministers in the security cabinet rather than his office.

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