Netanyahu said set to offer ‘hurt’ Ya’alon Foreign Ministry

Defense minister’s friend blasts his replacement with Liberman as a ‘mega terror-attack’; Jewish Home denies seeking cabinet upgrade

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Moshe Ya'alon at a Likud party meeting on January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Moshe Ya'alon at a Likud party meeting on January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is reportedly to be offered the post of foreign minister, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moves to vacate the defense chair for ostensible new coalition partner Avigdor Liberman.

Netanyahu and Ya’alon are planning to meet Thursday to discuss the cabinet shuffle, according to the tabloid Israel Hayom, which is seen as closely linked to Netanyahu.

The report did not cite a source for the information, and there was no immediate confirmation from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Ya’alon on Wednesday said he hadn’t been offered the Foreign Ministry post, currently held by Netanyahu, after reports emerged that he would have to make way for Liberman to take the defense spot.

Liberman and Netanyahu began talks in earnest Wednesday afternoon to bring the six-seat Yisrael Beytenu party in the Likud-led government, with reports quickly emerging that Netanyahu had acceded to Liberman’s demand for the defense portfolio. The talks had yet to conclude Thursday morning.

Avigdor Liberman, left, and Yariv Levin during coalition talks Thursday morning. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Avigdor Liberman, left, and Yariv Levin during coalition talks Thursday morning. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The move has been widely criticized, with Ya’alon, a former head of the Israeli army, praised for his work steering the Defense Ministry since 2013 and Liberman lambasted for his hard-line policy proposals.

“This move is a mega-terror attack,” Meir Ramon, a close friend of Ya’alon, said in interviews with several news outlets Thursday morning.

Ya’alon had recently butted heads with Netanyahu and the right flank of the coalition over a soldier who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron. As opposed to Ya’alon, who leveled withering criticism at the soldier and said he should be punished to the full extent of the law, Liberman criticized IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot for even pursuing charges against him, calling the trial “hypocritical and unjustified.”

More recently, Ya’alon crossed swords with Netanyahu and other officials in backing a general who appeared to compare some segments of Israeli society to pre-World War II Germany.

Ramon told Ynet he had spoken to Ya’alon, who “saw that the writing was on the wall,” but didn’t think bringing in Liberman, a former foreign minister, would involve him losing the Defense Ministry.

“To me, he seems hurt, he believed in the correctness of his way. He maybe hopes this thing won’t come to pass, but he’s strong, brave and will overcome this hurdle,” he said.

John Kerry, right, meeting with Moshe Ya'alon in Jerusalem in May, 2013. (photo credit: US State Department)
John Kerry, right, meeting with Moshe Ya’alon in Jerusalem in May, 2013. (photo credit: US State Department)

While well versed in security matters, Ya’alon has little diplomatic experience. In 2014, he was caught on tape calling US Secretary of State John Kerry “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” in his efforts to coax Israel and the Palestinians into a peace agreement.

The incident was seen as damaging Israel’s already tenuous relationship with the White House, and Ya’alon later apologized, though he was later denied meetings with Kerry and US Vice President Joe Biden during a trip to the US later that year.

The Jewish Home party, which holds the Education and Justice ministries, denied Thursday morning that it had been gunning for either the Foreign or Defense ministries as the cabinet reshuffles.

Party ministers “don’t want any portfolio other than the ones they have,” the party said in a statement. “They are satisfied with their posts.”

Liberman, meanwhile, was meeting Thursday morning with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin of Likud to seal the agreement that will see his party join the coalition.

Levin told Haaretz that there were no major differences between the sides, and that, in fact, the conclusion of the talks was mostly a function of “how long it’ll take to put things in writing.”

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