Netanyahu to announce he’ll remain defense minister, appoint deputy IDF head

Netanyahu to announce he’ll remain defense minister, appoint deputy IDF head

Likud sources say PM has met with outgoing and incoming chiefs of staff and head of Shin Bet to discuss appointment

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the headquarters of the IDF's Gaza Division on October 17, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the headquarters of the IDF's Gaza Division on October 17, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

​Amid intense speculation over new elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu​ is​ ​set to announce on Sunday night that he will remain defense minister and will personally appoint a new deputy chief of staff, ​​Likud sources told The Times of Israel Sunday night.

The prime minister is set to give a highly anticipated statement at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv ​at 8 p.m,, his office said earlier.​ ​The televised ​announcement will coincide with the start of Israel’s main nightly news broadcasts​.

Before meeting with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Sunday evening in a “last effort” to save his government, Netanyahu met at the Defense Ministry with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, his nominated successor Aviv Kochavi, and Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman​, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Likud sources said the meeting was held to discuss the appointment of an IDF deputy chief of staff.

They would not say if any other appointments would be announced at the same time.

Kahlon’s office said on Sunday night that his meeting with Netanyahu ended “without results,” and that the two had agreed to meet again later this week.

Earlier, it was reported that Netanyahu will appoint a foreign minister in the coming days. Hebrew-language media said Netanyahu would likely appoint a Likud member as foreign minister, a post that he currently holds. Channel 10 news said Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz were being considered for the position.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) is seen with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Tzachi Hanegbi during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on July 27, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shortly after the reports were published, the Likud party released a statement saying the prime minister would “appoint ministers in the coming days,” without elaborating. Currently, the prime minister holds the foreign affairs, defense, health, and immigration absorption portfolios.

Shortly after the announcement, the Jewish Home party said Netanyahu’s announcement of the appointment of a foreign minister “does not change anything” regarding its demand that Naftali Bennett be made defense minister.

“This is a government that is nominally right-wing but acts left-wing,” the right-wing coalition party said in a statement. “The government is a government with leftist policies, a collapsed deterrence against Hamas, the failure to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar, a weak policy toward terrorists and their families after terror attacks.”

The party said that if Bennett is not made defense minister “we should go to immediate elections. Without handing over the defense portfolio to Minister Bennett in order to extricate Israel from its severe security crisis, there is no point in having a leftist government.”

Speaking at his weekly cabinet meeting earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu said it would be unwise to embark on a divisive election campaign during such a sensitive time for national security.

“It would be both unnecessary and incorrect to go to elections. We remember well what happened when elements inside the coalitions took down Likud governments in 1992 and in 1999,” Netanyahu said, noting the past two elections in which the Labor Party came to power.

“We need to do everything we can to prevent repeating these mistakes,” he added.

From left, Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on November 18, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The sudden coalition crisis was sparked by the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who had demanded a stronger Israeli response to the massive flareup in violence in the Gaza Strip last week.

The departure of Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party leaves the coalition with a razor-thin two-seat edge over the opposition in the 120-member Knesset. Netanyahu’s other coalition partners say that governing with such a small majority is untenable, and have called for early elections.

Bennett, the head of the religious-nationalist Jewish Home party, has already threatened to bring down the government if he is not appointed defense minister. Without the Jewish Home, Netanyahu’s coalition would shrink from 61 seats to just 53. The government must have the backing of at least half of the 120-seat Knesset to survive no-confidence motions.

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