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'The emerging picture is more than alarming'

Liberman claims Netanyahu plans to oust incoming IDF chief, attorney general

Outgoing finance minister says Likud leader also seeking to cut Ben Gvir and Smotrich down to size, take control of judge-appointing committee

Finance Minister and Israel Beyteinu party chairman Avigdor Liberman (left) speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 15, 2022. Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu addresses his supporters on the night of the Israeli elections, at the party headquarters in Jerusalem, November 2, 2022.
(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Finance Minister and Israel Beyteinu party chairman Avigdor Liberman (left) speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 15, 2022. Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu addresses his supporters on the night of the Israeli elections, at the party headquarters in Jerusalem, November 2, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu chair and outgoing Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman on Saturday claimed Benjamin Netanyahu and his prospective right-wing and religious coalition intend to fire the incoming military chief and replace the attorney general.

In a series of posts on Twitter, Liberman said after he had spoken to several senior Likud officials and people close to Netanyahu, “the emerging picture is more than alarming.”

Liberman issued a warning about the Netanyahu bloc’s plan to pass a bill allowing the Knesset to override High Court of Justice rulings, considered a top priority by the Religious Zionism and United Torah Judaism parties, and many in Likud, and of potential benefit to Netanyahu himself in extricating himself from his ongoing corruption trial.

In another step to ensure control of the legal systems, Liberman said Netanyahu intends to install a majority on the committee that appoints judges. He said it is “an important and immediate goal for Netanyahu,” and when he needs an opposition representative on the committee, he would appoint Hadash-Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi. The Arab Hadash-Ta’al faction is not aligned with either Netanyahu’s bloc or the opposing parties led by Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid.

Liberman claimed Netanyahu would seek to replace Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara “as quickly as possible” and dismiss and replace incoming army chief Herzi Halevi “on the grounds that he does not cooperate with Netanyahu’s plans regarding Iran.”

The Yisrael Beytenu leader in the Twitter posts said Netanyahu would appoint a person extremely loyal to him as communications minister in order to take control of the mostly independent Kan public broadcaster.

On Netanyahu’s allies, Liberman said the Likud leader has a plan to “thwart” Itamar Ben Gvir and his extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party, and bring him down to 4-5 seats in the Knesset. Otzma Yehudit ran in the elections on a joint slate with Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party and the anti-LGBTQ Noam party. The alliance won 14 seats, becoming the second-largest party in Netanyahu’s bloc.

Otzma Yehudit announced Friday that it will be breaking away from Religious Zionism and operate independently in the new Knesset. All three parties have been holding separate coalition negotiations with Netanyahu.

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionism party head MK Bezalel Smotrich as party chiefs pose for a group photograph during the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Liberman said Netanyahu plans to “thwart” Smotrich as well, saying there is a “broad internal consensus that there is an urgent need to get rid of Smotrich.”

Liberman said his claims were based on his personal assessment, “but a very well-founded assessment.”

Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu is a right-wing secularist party and firmly opposed to Netanyahu and his ultra-Orthodox allies.

Smotrich meanwhile on Saturday said in a statement he would be postponing a trip to the United States in order to finish up coalition negotiations.

The negotiations have stalled in the past week as Smotrich demands the post of defense minister in the next government.

Netanyahu has been bucking Smotrich’s demand for the defense post, with Likud sources leaking to the media that such an appointment would risk damaging ties with the US, which is invested in maintaining security calm in the West Bank and keeping prospects for a two-state solution alive.

Speculation that Smotrich could receive the defense portfolio has led to intense pushback from former Israeli defense officials as well. He served only briefly in the IDF, with his service postponed to enable him to study in yeshiva and then attend law school.

MK David Bitan during a plenum session in the Knesset, on October 13, 2021.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Separately on Saturday, Likud MK David Bitan — once a close Netanyahu ally who is now placed 17th on the Likud slate — slammed the party leader for not supporting him during the faction’s primaries.

“I’m angry at him, he didn’t support me in the primaries. But I remained silent not to harm the campaign,” Bitan, a former coalition whip, told Channel 12.

“Of course I was angry at him, I’ve been supporting him since 1992, in all sorts of situations. And when the time came for him to support me, he went against me,” he said.

“It’s his right to go against me, and now it’s my right to go against him,” Bitan said.

Netanyahu officially received a mandate to form a government last Sunday, giving him 28 days to assemble a majority coalition.

If he needs more time, he could seek a 14-day extension from President Isaac Herzog.

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