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We are on the brink of another coalition crisis, says senior Likud MK

Tzachi Hanegbi: Jewish Home threat to sink deal with Liberman over security cabinet overhaul amounts to ‘political suicide’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with Tzachi Hanegbi during a Likud Party faction meeting at the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with Tzachi Hanegbi during a Likud Party faction meeting at the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A senior Likud member of Knesset and a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Saturday that the governing coalition was on the brink of another political crisis amid a demand by the right-wing Jewish Home party that the prime minister overhaul the high-level security cabinet and improve intelligence-sharing among ministers.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett is demanding Netanyahu appoint a military attaché to the cabinet to provide ministers with real-time security updates, increase fact-finding visits to IDF bases and other military zones, and facilitate easier access to classified information.

Bennett has threatened that his party will vote against the impending appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister in the Knesset on Monday, which would sink the coalition deal signed Wednesday with Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party. The coalition needs Jewish Home’s eight votes to pass the appointment.

“We are on the brink of a political crisis, which may get worse on Monday if Bennett votes against the government and as a result, the Jewish Home is no longer in the coalition,” Tzahi Hanegbi told Channel 2 on Saturday.

Hanegbi, who heads the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said there was justification for the call to improve how the security cabinet operates. “But this improvement cannot, in my opinion, come through an ultimatum,” he said, but rather through professional effort.

Naftali Bennett addressing the Knesset on March 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Naftali Bennett addressing the Knesset on March 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hanegbi said that Bennett’s ultimatum was essentially “political suicide,” especially if the threat is carried out and Jewish Home votes against the government to torpedo the coalition deal.

If this right-wing government falls, in the worst case scenario, or, alternatively, if a left-wing party joins the coalition instead, the Jewish Home will pay the political price, he said.

As to the resignation of Moshe Ya’alon last week, Hanegbi said the former defense minister made a “grave mistake.”

His departure was “a big loss for the Likud and for the defense establishment in general,” added Hanegbi, saying that it was hard to compare between Liberman and Ya’alon for the defense post but that he believed Liberman would be a “good defense minister.”

Outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon announces his resignation from the Knesset on May 20, 2016, at army headquarters in Tel Aviv. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announces his resignation from the Knesset on May 20, 2016, at army headquarters in Tel Aviv. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Hanegbi acknowledged that the prime minister had “delayed” in offering Ya’alon the Foreign Ministry instead, but “at the end of the day, he did offer it” and Ya’alon “should have stayed in the system.”

The former defense minister’s bitter critique of the government during his resignation speech were “amoral,” said Hanegbi in reference to Ya’alon’s warning that “extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement.”

“He knows this is nonsense,” said Hanegbi.

Ya’alon’s ouster from the Defense Ministry and Liberman’s appointment shook the Israeli political arena last week as it was revealed that the latter’s Yisrael Beytenu five-seat party would join the coalition, amid efforts by Netanyahu to expand his wafer-thin majority of 61 seats.

The controversial move sparked criticism of the prime minister and his handling of the expansion of his government.

On Friday, a minister from the centrist Kulanu party, a member of a coalition, announced that he too was resigning in protest of the coalition deal with Liberman, accusing the government of leading Israel along a path to destruction, wrecking US ties and silencing dissent on everything from the gas deal to the army’s conduct.

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay — who is not a member of Knesset but rather an external candidate appointed to the job last year by Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon — told reporters Friday “it wasn’t easy for me to be part of the government, a government that has entirely upset the relationship with the world’s strongest power.”

“This week, a year after my appointment, came the pill I could not swallow: Ya’alon’s dismissal and Liberman’s appointment are an unusual step, even in politics. I urge the prime minister to wise up before it’s too late, remember that security is security and to rely on people, leadership, and not just tanks and planes,” Gabbay said.

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