Liberman officially submits resignation, holds last defense meetings

Netanyahu has yet to make decision on whether to comply with Jewish Home ultimatum for defense portfolio or call early elections

Then-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)
Then-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)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman officially tendered his resignation on Thursday, a day after announcing he would step down to protest a ceasefire agreement with Hamas that brought an end to a major flareup in violence in the Gaza Strip.

Liberman will hold a final meeting with top defense officials later on Thursday, the Kan news broadcaster reported. His resignation will go into effect 48 hours after he submitted the letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party is also quitting Netanyahu’s coalition, leaving the premier with only a two-seat advantage over the opposition in parliament and throwing his government into turmoil.

Netanyahu has not yet named Liberman’s replacement, and has not indicated if he will comply with the ultimatum by the Jewish Home party, which is demanding the defense portfolio in the wake of Liberman’s departure.

Israelis protest at the entrance to the southern city of Ashkelon on November 14, 2018, over a ceasefire ending an exchange of violence with Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip. (Jack Guez/AFP)

On Wednesday, Liberman told reporters he was resigning over the ceasefire reached with Gaza terror groups following an unprecedentedly intense two-day rocket barrage on Israel’s south.

“What happened yesterday, the ceasefire, together with the deal with Hamas, is a capitulation to terror. There is no other way of explaining it,” Liberman told reporters.

“What we’re doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security,” he said, adding that early elections should be held “as soon as possible.”

Other defense officials also leveled harsh criticism of the government’s handling of the Gaza flareup, telling Kan on Thursday morning that security considerations in Israel were becoming increasingly politicized.

Unnamed officials told the broadcaster the Netanyahu government had failed to inform its own security cabinet of the official policy on military action in Gaza.

Iron Dome missiles intercept rockets from Gaza southern Israel, November 12, 2018. Hadas Parush/Flash90

“The value of even holding a [security] cabinet meeting is zero,” an official told the broadcaster.

The defense officials said Liberman’s resignation exposed the “political games” that dominated discussions within the cabinet.

On Tuesday evening, the security cabinet agreed to an informal ceasefire with Hamas in a decision that several cabinet ministers later said they opposed.

Liberman, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett proposed an alternative response, but it was rejected by the other ministers at the meeting, according to Channel 10.

The decision was slammed by some opposition leaders, who called it a capitulation to terror after a deadly two-day conflagration that saw over 400 rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel. Netanyahu has defended the ceasefire deal that ended the worst escalation between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza since a 2014 war.

An official from Netanyahu’s Likud party hit back at speculation that early elections would be called and said Wednesday that the prime minister would take charge of Liberman’s portfolio at least temporarily.

“There’s no obligation to go to an election in this time of security sensitivity,” the official said on condition of anonymity. Elections are currently scheduled for November 2019.

Later, a Likud spokesman said that Netanyahu had begun consultations with heads of parties in his coalition to stabilize it and that these would continue on Thursday.

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