Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at his former defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, on Thursday in a rare video statement after Ya’alon accused him of fear-mongering and “blinding” the country with imaginary existential threats.
Speaking at the Herzliya Conference earlier in the day, Ya’alon also announced that he intended to run for prime minister, less than a month after resigning from the government amid a political upheaval.
In a video posted on his YouTube channel late Thursday, Netanyahu took Ya’alon to task, charging that his criticisms rang hollow and intimating that they were merely an attempt at political revenge for his being forced out from the defense post last month following the entry of Yisrael Beytenu into the coalition and Avigdor Liberman’s takeover of the position.
“Security is a serious matter. One cannot say at a conference in Munich four months ago that Iran is an existential threat to Israel and today at the Herzliya Conference say that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel,” Netanyahu said.
“One cannot express full confidence in the leadership when one is part of it and then say the complete opposite when you are outside; therefore, no importance should be ascribed to such political attacks,” he went on.
“True leadership does not deny threats, it sees them clearly and prepares to deal with them, and this is exactly what we will continue to do, seriously, responsibly, with clear judgment for the sake of Israel’s security,” Netanyahu concluded.
In his speech, Ya’alon had accused the government of “blinding” the country with imaginary existential threats. Plainly referring to Netanyahu but not naming him, Ya’alon said the leadership incited sections of Israeli society against each other, and was cynically peddling the false sense that Israel is “on the brink of a second Holocaust.
“It is my intention to run for the leadership in the next elections,” Ya’alon said, drawing applause from the audience.
The Likud party released a statement shortly after Ya’alon made his remarks, stopping just short of calling him a hypocrite for downplaying the threat of Iran, which he once warned against.
“It’s amusing to watch how quickly Ya’alon changes his spots. Just a few months ago he said ‘Iran is an existential concern for Israel,'” the party said in its statement. “Today at the Herzliya Conference, when he became a politician, he said there are no existential concerns for Israel.”
In a dramatic turn of events, Ya’alon was last month ousted as defense minister, a position he had held since 2013. In the weeks since, commentators and analysts have mused over how and with whom Ya’alon could stage a political comeback.
The former Likud member did not indicate with which party he would run.
It was not Ya’alon’s first time indicating his intention to run for office, and indeed he made a similar announcement during his resignation speech in Tel Aviv last month. Many of the lines from his speech on Thursday were even picked directly from his speech nearly a month ago.
“I have no intention of [permanently] leaving public life, and in the future I will return as a candidate for national leadership,” he said on May 20.
At the 16th annual Herzliya Conference at the Interdisciplinary Center, Ya’alon reiterated that decision, but also came out harshly against the current government.
“It is intolerable that Israel’s leadership in 2016 tries to incite Jews against Arabs, right against left, and between different tribes, all in order to survive in the government and to get another month or another year” in office, he said. “The job of a leadership is to unify society, even when there are substantive political differences, not to foster division.”
Despite claims to the contrary by Israel’s current leaders, “at this time and for the foreseeable future, there is no existential threat facing Israel,” Ya’alon said, without naming any particular politicians or leaders who say the opposite.
“Israel is the strongest country in the region,” Ya’alon continued. “Therefore it’s reasonable that the leadership should cease terrifying its citizens and stop trying to give them a feeling that we are on the brink of a second Holocaust.”
Ya’alon cited Israel’s economic and social woes, including racism and sexism, as issues he would seek to address in a leadership position.
“Good people are deterred from entering politics. But we can’t throw up our hands and say someone else will take care of it,” he added, slamming the “violent” rhetoric of Israeli politicians.
“I plan on offering an alternative to the current leadership, because we do not have another country,” he said, before leaving the stage and exiting the building.