Ex-defense minister: Current political climate an ‘existential threat’ to Israel

Moshe Ya’alon slams Liberman for handling of flare-up with Gaza and subsequent resignation

Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon  speaks during a rally against government corruption at Zion Square in Jerusalem on December 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks during a rally against government corruption at Zion Square in Jerusalem on December 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, a fierce critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Saturday that the current political climate was an “existential threat” to the country.

Speaking at a cultural event in the Eshkol Regional Council, Ya’alon said, “what is happening right now with the political situation is an existential threat to Israel.”

Ya’alon also aim at his successor in the role, Avigdor Liberman, who resigned last week as defense minister over the Gaza ceasefire and pulled his Yisrael Beytenu from the coalition, leaving it with a 61-59 majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

“A defense minister resigns because he thought one way and the military thought another way. What do you mean the military thought another way? You are the one responsible,” said Ya’alon, criticizing Liberman’s handling of the recent flare-up with Gaza, which threatened to become a full-blown war, and which sparked the political crisis.

“As defense minister, when I brought [plans for] an operation before the security cabinet or when I brought a certain policy before the security cabinet, I initially cleared it. The IDF chief of staff did not bring it before the government, I did. He explained, but I was before the government,” he said.

Ya’alon accused Liberman of failed political maneuvers and posturing, saying the Yisrael Beytenu head quit because he “discovered that his slogans to effectively take out Hamas have no backing.”

He said recent events have caused “chaos,” and a breakdown of ties between the political and military echelons.

Ya’alon was ousted by Netanyahu as defense minister in May 2016 and replaced with Liberman. He quit the ruling Likud party and the Israeli parliament shortly thereafter. He has since frequently criticized Netanyahu and indicated he would return to politics to run against him.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announces his resignation from his office following the ceasefire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, during a press conference in the Knesset on November 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The current political crisis began after an undercover Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip on November 11 went awry, leading to exchanges of fire in which an Israeli special forces officer and seven Hamas gunmen were killed. The incident led to two days of intense cross-border fighting. Gaza’s Hamas rulers fired hundreds of rockets at southern Israel, while Israeli warplanes targeted scores of Hamas military sites in Gaza.

After two days, Egypt brokered an informal truce between Israel and Hamas. Though Netanyahu averted a war, he drew blistering criticism from both the right and left for his decision to accept the terms of the agreement after the unprecedentedly intense barrage on Israel’s south.

Liberman resigned in protest, accusing Netanyahu of capitulating to terrorism.

Following the resignation, Israel appeared to be headed for early elections well ahead of November 2019, when the current government’s term is set to end, but Netanyahu appears to be holding steady. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, made a failed bid for the defense portfolio, and calls for a snap vote have since dissipated.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party, who also advocated early elections, revealed last week that the Israeli government knew the truce with Hamas would not be a popular decision, but that security chiefs were unanimous in their recommendations that this was the right course of action.

Kahlon said the decision “came from a sense of great responsibility,” but “we knew it would be unpopular.”

Kahlon dismissed criticism leveled by Liberman and others that Israel “surrendered” to Hamas, saying the truce was “not a win” for the terror group and came after hours of deliberations in the security cabinet.

He explained that the decision to agree to a truce was “measured” even as he understood the anger expressed by residents of the south who were under rocket fire.

According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of two days almost two weeks ago — more than twice the rate at which they were launched during the 2014 war and the largest-ever number of projectiles fired in one day. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside southern Israeli cities and towns, killing a Palestinian man in Ashkelon, injuring dozens and causing significant property damage.

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