Opposition leaders on Wednesday welcomed Avigdor Liberman’s resignation as defense minister, with Zionist Union chair Avi Gabbay saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should follow in his footsteps and step down.
“That’s how it should be. You failed at your job, you resigned,” Gabbay said, before taking aim at the prime minister.
“There is no security for the residents of the south, and therefore the prime minister must also resign. He is responsible for security just like the defense minister,” he charged in a statement released immediately after Liberman’s announcement.
“Let’s go to elections,” he said, He promised that as prime minister, he would be able to “restore security.”
Liberman, in announcing that he would be resigning as defense minister, called for the government to be dismantled and for new elections to be called.
“I am here to announce my resignation from the government,” he said at a hastily organized press conference at the Knesset after a Yisrael Beytenu party meeting, during which he told MKs of his decision.
Liberman said his decision came in light of the ceasefire reportedly agreed on Tuesday between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza following an unprecedentedly fierce two-day barrage of over 460 rockets fired by Hamas and other terror groups toward Israel.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) joined the calls for Israel to go to the polls.
“The government of failed security must go. No peace, no security — elections now,” she tweeted.
Yair Lapid, who leads the opposition Yesh Atid party, said that the resignation was proof of Netanyahu’s weakness in the face of terror emanating from the Gaza Strip.
“The resignation of the defense minister reinforces the fact that the prime minister has surrendered to terrorism at the expense of the residents of the south,” he tweeted.
Immediately after the announcement, the opposition Meretz party announced it plans to propose a bill to dissolve the Knesset next week.
Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg praised the resignation, saying that the country is better off without “the racist and corrupt minister who has degraded Israeli politics.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely was the first senior Likud official to speak out on Liberman’s resignation, slamming him as a “cynical” politician.
“There is not one citizen in Israel who regrets the resignation. The right-wing government can function without him,” she said.
The family of an IDF soldier whose remains are being held in Gaza by the Hamas terror group praised Liberman’s comments on his decision to resign, in which he specifically cited the importance of bringing back the remains of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul and two living Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are being held in Gaza.
“We thank Minister Liberman for his strong and determined stand with us during his tenure and especially recently,” Goldin’s family said in a statement. “There can be no agreement [with Hamas] without the return of the [fallen] soldiers and the civilians. The responsible for this lies solely on the shoulders of Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
A day earlier, Liberman and other ministers severely criticized Netanyahu over the decision to agree to a ceasefire.
“What happened yesterday, the ceasefire, together with the deal with Hamas, is a capitulation to terror. There is no other way of explaining it,” the outgoing defense minister told reporters on Wednesday.
“What we are doing right now is buying quiet for a heavy price with no long-term plan to reduce violence toward us,” he said of the deal, which wasn’t officially confirmed by Israeli officials. He also slammed the military’s response to the rocket fire. “To put it lightly, our response was drastically lacking to the 500 rockets fired at us,” he said.
Liberman concluded his prepared statement by calling for elections to be held “at the soonest possible date.” During a subsequent question-and-answer session he predicted that right-wing voters would “see through the other parties’ hypocrisy” and reward his Yisrael Beytenu party with 20 Knesset seats.
A Likud source said in response that there was “no need to go to elections at this time of sensitive security,” despite the coalition losing five seats with Yisrael Beytenu’s expected exit.
Without Yisrael Beytenu, the coalition would hold a paper-thin majority in the 120-seat Knesset. New elections must be held by within the coming 12 months.
“The government can complete its term,” the Likud source said in a statement. “In any case, in the meantime, the defense portfolio will go to Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu defended his decision to accept a ceasefire with terror groups in Gaza after the worst escalation in violence in the Strip since 2014.
“In times of emergency, when making decisions crucial to security, the public can’t always be privy to the considerations that must be hidden from the enemy,” he said at a ceremony in honor of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion.
“Our enemies begged for a ceasefire and they knew very well why,” he added.
According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of 25 hours on Monday and Tuesday. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens more, and causing significant property damage.
In response to the rocket and mortar attacks, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”