Former defense chief Ya’alon ‘crossing country’ in bid to replace PM

Former defense chief Ya’alon ‘crossing country’ in bid to replace PM

Ex-IDF chief says he will head a political faction the next time Israel goes to polls, but does not say if he will start a new one or link up with an existing party

Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks at a cultural event in Ra'anana on July 15, 2017. (Flash90)
Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks at a cultural event in Ra'anana on July 15, 2017. (Flash90)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon says he has been criss-crossing the country for more than a year in preparation for challenging Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.

With elections set to take place in 2019 unless they are called earlier, Ya’alon told Israel Radio Wednesday he would run at the head of a political party, but would not say whether this would be a new party or existing one.

“I think there’ll be surprises in the elections when I enter the field,” he said, arguing that Israelis lived in a world of media-created images that did not necessarily correspond to the personalities behind those images.

A longtime Likud figure and former army chief of staff, Ya’alon served as defense minister from 2013 until 2016, when he pushed out to make room for Avigdor Liberman, whose party was joining the coalition.

He would not say whether he had been approached to lead the Zionist Union, but hinted he would not be interested in joining the dovish party until it had figured out what it stood for, referencing a seeming rightward turn taken by new leader Avi Gabbay.

He said the same was true of other parties that he did not name.

“I meet people, I suggest a joint agenda in advance of the possibility of linking up, but it’s still too early,” he said.

Ya’alon was dismissed from the government last year following a series of clashes with the prime minister, most notably on the Elor Azaria case, in which the IDF soldier shot dead a disarmed, incapacitated Palestinian assailant and was later convicted of manslaughter.

Former soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months, later commuted to 14 months, for killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant, arrives at the Tsrifin military prison in Rishon Lezion, on August 9, 2017, to begin serving out his sentence. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Since leaving the government, he has repeatedly accused Netanyahu of acting out of political expediency rather than true leadership, comparing him to a “weather vane.

In his resignation speech in May 2016, Ya’alon — who describes himself as hawkish on security and who supports Jewish settlement in the West Bank — vowed he would return to politics and run for the leadership of the country.

In May, he threatened to “tell all” about Netanyahu’s alleged corruption if the prime minister is not indicted in ongoing graft probes involving him or his associates.

He was known to have disagreed with Netanyahu over the so-called “submarine affair,” in which the prime minister’s personal lawyer David Shimron is suspected of attempting to sway multi-billion-shekel deals in favor of the German shipbuilder ThyssenKryupp, which Shimron represented in Israel. The purchase was opposed by parts of the defense establishment, including Ya’alon.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott, then defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony for the new submarine ‘Rahav’ at the Israeli navy base in Haifa, on January 12, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Following testimony by Ya’alon in January, police opened a full criminal investigation into the affair, now known as “Case 3000,” but have stressed that the prime minister is not a suspect.

Netanyahu is, however, the subject of two other ongoing formal police investigations.

While defense minister, Ya’alon caused a diplomatic spat with the US after being quoted in an Israeli newspaper calling US Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic” in his pursuit of peace talks and claiming that the “only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us alone.”

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