ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Likud’s Regev appointed to fill in while defense minister abroad, bypassing Smotrich

Despite Religious Zionism party head holding ministerial post within the ministry, transportation minister to be substitute for Yoav Gallant while he attends conference in Germany

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Transportation Minister Miri Regev at a ceremony for the restoration of commercial flights by Israeli companies to Turkey at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, February 16, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Miri Regev at a ceremony for the restoration of commercial flights by Israeli companies to Turkey at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, February 16, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The coalition has decided to appoint Transportation Minister Miri Regev as temporary defense minister while Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is in Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference this week.

The government apparently bypassed Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who holds a dual role as an independent, second minister in the Defense Ministry amid tension in the coalition over the division of security powers.

Smotrich is the head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, while Regev and Gallant are members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

Gallant departs Thursday evening and is expected to return Sunday evening at the end of the conference, according to his spokesperson. Regev will officially be at the helm of the Defense Ministry while Gallant is abroad, but will essentially be caretaking.

The decision is in line with Section 24(a) of Basic Law: The Government, which mandates that the government appoint a placeholder minister to fill another cabinet member’s role when that minister is abroad.

Smotrich, Gallant, and Netanyahu have been locked in conflict over how to divide responsibilities between Smotrich and Gallant. Smotrich secured a vaguely worded promise from Netanyahu during coalition negotiations to take control over the Civil Administration, which governs civilian life in areas of the West Bank under Israeli control — specifically, issues related to Jewish and Palestinian construction. Smotrich has been at loggerheads with Gallant, however, in two recent events over an unauthorized Jewish community and orchard in the West Bank.

Smotrich criticized Likud, the Border Police and Netanyahu on Wednesday after the Civil Administration and Border Police executed an order to uproot an orchard planted without authorization by a settler in the West Bank.

The three lawmakers have been discussing a plan to delineate powers between the Gallant and Smotrich, but have yet to finalize the decision seven weeks into their government’s tenure.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (L) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) (Yonatan Sindel; Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Aviv Kohavi, who ended his term as IDF chief of staff last month, has objected to the transfer of any of the defense minister’s authority over the IDF to any other minister.

Critics have strongly denounced the move to transfer the extra powers to Smotrich, some saying it would amount to de facto annexation of Area C because it would allow for Israeli citizens in the West Bank to be administered by a civilian body, rather than a military one, as is the case for Palestinians.

Regev, a former Israel Defense Forces brigadier general and IDF spokesperson, is Likud’s most senior female politician.

Last year she landed in hot water after being recorded saying that lawmakers should not feel “bellyaches” about blocking legislation to help soldiers and abused women if such moves pressured the former government toward its collapse.

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