Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman said Monday that, as defense minister, he pushed to assassinate Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, but was repeatedly overruled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Liberman was referring to his promise, prior to becoming defense minister, that he would kill Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh within 48 hours of taking the job if he did not return Israelis held by Hamas. The Yisrael Beytenu head has often been mocked for doing nothing of the sort during his two years in office.
“I want to comment on Haniyeh once and for all,” he told reporters, during a tour of the city of Ashkelon. Liberman and Netanyahu have become bitter rivals as the two campaign ahead of a snap poll called by the prime minister when he failed to form a coalition without Liberman’s backing.
Liberman served as defense minister from 2016 to 2018, but left over what he said were differences in dealing with Gaza and its Hamas rulers.
“I presented the cabinet with a detailed plan. My position was clear and the one who stopped all the plans, the one who prevented any attack initiative was Netanyahu — at every cabinet meeting,” he said. “All that we do is, instead of initiating and leading, we react and get dragged along” by events.
“On more than one occasion I brought proposals and plans and resolution drafts to act seriously. [I said] we must go back to targeted killings. Unfortunately, I repeat, the one who stopped it, the one who blocked it, was Netanyahu.”
In the run-up to the upcoming September 17 election Liberman has said repeatedly that his secularist faction seeks the formation of a broad government that will include Likud and Blue and White, while excluding ultra-Orthodox and religious parties.
“I don’t rule anyone out on a personal level,” he said. “Before we go to the president [to recommend who forms the next coalition], we will demand of Likud and Blue and White: ‘Do you want a broad government without the ultra-Orthodox and without messianics’… without [the Union of Right Wing Parties’ Bezalel] Smotrich and without [URWP chief] Rafi Peretz. Anyone seeking to form a narrow government will create real trouble for Israel.”
Polls in recent days have shown the Yisrael Beytenu party surging to around 10 seats, after winning just five in April. Liberman is seen as the likely kingmaker in any coalition-building scenario.
Liberman has strongly criticized Netanyahu since the breakdown of coalition talks, and has claimed Likud is no longer a right-wing party.
“This is the same Netanyahu who pays protection money to Hamas,” he said earlier this month. “Who fears evacuating Khan al-Ahmar [a Bedouin village slated for destruction], even though the High Court of Justice approved it, voted for the [2005 Gaza] disengagement, and prevented the death penalty for terrorists. What exactly is his connection to the right?”