Netanyahu set to pack security cabinet with loyalists alongside far-right ministers

7 of 11 members of high-powered inner panel to be approved at Tuesday meeting will come from Likud, likely watering down the influence of hardliners Smotrich and Ben Gvir

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and members of his new government look on as the government is sworn in at the Knesset, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Jerusalem. (Amir Cohen/Pool via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and members of his new government look on as the government is sworn in at the Knesset, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Jerusalem. (Amir Cohen/Pool via AP)

The government will meet Tuesday to approve an 11-member roster for the high-level security cabinet, which is set to include two far-right hardliners alongside more moderate lawmakers aligned closely with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who are expected to balance out the high-stakes committee.

The meeting, the first with official business since the government was sworn in on Thursday, will also look to approve the appointments of deputy ministers, minus two lawmakers who were promised positions that would violate laws limiting the number of deputy ministers directly under the premier.

The security cabinet, a panel of top ministers charged with making decisions regarding Israel’s military posture, diplomatic relations and other matters of crucial importance, is set to include both National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, two hard-right political leaders who have pushed for West Bank settlement expansion and harsher treatment of Arab terror suspects.

By law, the security cabinet is required to include both finance minister and public security minister — a revamped role recently renamed national security minister at Ben Gvir’s request. It will be headed by Netanyahu and include Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, all of whom are mandated by law to be part of the forum.

The panel is also set to include Shas party head Aryeh Deri, as well as Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, Energy Minister Israel Katz and Transportation Minister Miri Regev, the lone female on the committee, according to a meeting agenda published by the government Monday.

Aside from Smotrich, Ben Gvir and Deri, all other ministers on the panel are members of Netanyahu’s Likud party or, in the case of non-political appointee Ron Dermer, closely aligned with the premier.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin (c), Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, (r) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkott, attending a security cabinet meeting at the Kirya, the IDF Headquarters, in Tel Aviv, on February 10, 2018. (Ariel Hermony/Ministry of Defense)

This means that though Smotrich and Ben Gvir will have a voice in high-level decision-making, Netanyahu will maintain his role as final arbiter via the installment of several lawmakers who are likely to follow his lead. Even with the influence of Smotrich and Ben Gvir watered down, the security cabinet is expected to be among the hawkish the country has ever known, reflecting the radical right makeup of the new government.

File: Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the United States, walks through the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Dermer, a former envoy to the US, will get a seat at the table despite not being a Knesset member. A close aide to the prime minister, he has been tasked as Netanyahu’s point man on a number of sensitive issues which would normally fall under the foreign minister’s purview, such as advancing normalization with Saudi Arabia.

Levin, a rising star in the party, has also emerged recently as a close confidant of Netanyahu, while others, such as Regev and Katz, are seen as longtime Netanyahu apparatchiks.

Too many deputies in the office

The government will also move to approve several deputy ministers, including Avi Maoz, head of the homophobic Noam party, who will be appointed deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Shas MK Uri Maklev is also set to be appointed deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as deputy transportation minister.

The government’s published agenda does not include a vote on deputy ministerial posts for Likud MK May Golan and Otzma Yehudit’s Almog Cohen, who were also promised spots as deputy ministers in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Israeli law normally allows for only a single deputy minister per ministry, but allows for up to two in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and May Golan in the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Netanyahu’s office/courtesy)

It was not immediately clear if the government would attempt to find alternative roles for the two, or seek to change the law to make room for more deputy ministers in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Cohen told Channel 12 news that he had been offered both an alternate post and to wait until the coalition could change the law, but refused. “I’ll serve the people and my party through the Knesset,” he said.

The last several days before the government swearing-in last week saw furious jockeying among various coalition MKs for enhanced government and Knesset roles, such as ministerial posts and powerful committee assignments, which usually come with various benefits and a higher media profile.

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