Ex-defense chief rules out sitting in Netanyahu-led government

Moshe Ya’alon confirms he’s discussing electoral alliance with Benny Gantz; Zionist Union chief Gabbay: ‘We are in a fight for the future of the people of Israel’

Former Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks in Haifa on December 29, 2018. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)
Former Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks in Haifa on December 29, 2018. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Former Likud defense minister and IDF chief Moshe Ya’alon on Saturday ruled out serving in a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he pursues talks with another former chief of staff to form a political bloc that could challenge the ruling Likud party.

Ya’alon has become an outspoken critic of Netanyahu since resigning in 2016 over his replacement by Avigdor Liberman as defense minister. On Tuesday, Ya’alon announced he would form a new party ahead of early Knesset elections in April.

“I won’t join a coalition headed by Benjamin Netanyahu,” Ya’alon said Saturday at a cultural event in Haifa.

He did not rule out sitting in a government with Likud, however, if his former party were to replace Netanyahu.

Ya’alon also castigated Netanyahu Saturday for ostensibly over-hyping for his own narrow political purposes the challenge to Israel’s security posed by the Hezbollah attack-tunnels under the Lebanon border that the IDF has been locating and sealing in recent weeks. The prime minister’s dramatizing of the issue, Ya’alon said, was purely a case of “politics.”

Though recent polls have indicated Ya’alon would fail to clear the minimum vote threshold needed to enter the Knesset, reports have said he is in talks with former chief of staff Benny Gantz to form an electoral alliance, with the latter doing well in the polls.

Ya’alon confirmed those reports on Saturday.

“We’ve been talking since before the elections in order to reach a shared agenda. What is being reported at the moment is just the beginning,” Ya’alon said.

From left, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speak at a press conference at the Prime Minister Office following Operation Protective Edge on August 27, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz, who commanded the military when Ya’alon was defense minister, formally entered politics Thursday with the registration of his new party, Israel Resilience. He has been largely mum on his political views and has not commented on whether he would join a Netanyahu-led government.

Surveys have said Gantz’s party would finish second to Likud in elections, though well behind it. They have also indicated he could pose a more potent challenge to Netanyahu’s ruling party if he were to team up with the opposition Zionist Union or Yesh Atid — alliances Gantz is reportedly inclined to rule out.

Amid fears that a multiplicity of factions could split the opposition vote, a number of political figures have called for parties to join forces against the premier, a suggestion which Ya’alon said Saturday he backs.

“It is possible to find a broad common camp for [a united front of] what I call a Zionist left, responsible right, and everything in between,” he said, adding that differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not serve as a divide.

Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay speaks at a conference in Jerusalem held by the Globes financial daily on December 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking at the same event, Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay vowed he would be prime minister after April’s elections, despite polls forecasting his opposition faction losing over half the 24 seats it now holds.

“The coming elections are between me and Netanyahu… All the other contenders in politics say they will, and intend to, sit in his government. I’ve come to bring major change to the country and I don’t believe it is possible to do this in a government headed by Netanyahu,” he said.

Gabbay added: “We are in a true fight for the lives, freedom and future of the people of Israel… There are those who have given up, and that’s what the government [encourages]: ‘Be grateful for what you have.’ I represent a view that says these things can be changed.”

Gabbay, who heads the Labor Party, was environmental protection minister on behalf of the Kulanu party before resigning in 2016 over Netanyahu’s inclusion of Liberman in the government.

Along with Labor, the Zionist Union includes the Hatnua party led by Tzipi Livni, who has called for the formation of large opposition bloc that can challenge Netanyahu.

On Wednesday, the Knesset voted to dissolve and schedule early elections for April 9.

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