Gantz warns adding second minister in Defense Ministry will be bad for security

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

Religious Zionism party head MK Bezalel Smotrich after coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem, December 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Religious Zionism party head MK Bezalel Smotrich after coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem, December 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hours before a Knesset vote on legal changes to enable a second minister in the Defense Ministry to oversee West Bank construction is scheduled to come for another vote in the Knesset plenum, Defense Minister Benny Gantz  warns that if enacted, it would “break apart” clear command lines and cause a “loss of security.”

In addition to confusion of command concerns raised by Gantz and other former security officials, the bill faces criticism from legal advisers who say it does not clearly delineate the responsibilities that will fall under the minister to be appointed by the Religious Zionism party, likely party leader Bezalel Smotrich.

Requiring a change to Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Law: The Government, 61 lawmakers must vote to advance it through its first reading later today, after which it will return to the special committee preparing the legislative change in preparation for its second and third — final — readings.

Part of a legislative blitz demanded by far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties as preconditions to forming prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the bill will for the first time create a permanent mechanism for two ministers in a single ministry.

A previous second minister in the Defense Ministry, Gantz’s party colleague Michael Biton, was appointed from 2020 to 2021 through a temporary mechanism and was in charge of non-operational affairs.

The bill to enable Smotrich to be a minister in the Defense Ministry was merged with another change to the Basic Law governing the government, which will clear Shas leader Aryeh Deri’s path to heading three ministries despite his suspended sentence for tax fraud, by loosening restrictions to bar only persons serving custodial sentences.

Both are expected to come for a joint vote on Thursday and be immediately sent back to committee for final vote preparations.

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