With fanfare, Avigdor Liberman enters Defense Ministry
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With fanfare, Avigdor Liberman enters Defense Ministry

After ceremony at military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Yisrael Beytenu boss set to meet IDF chiefs for first security overview

Incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (2-L) and Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (2-R) listen to the Hatikva national anthem during a welcoming ceremony for Liberman at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv, on May 31, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (2-L) and Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (2-R) listen to the Hatikva national anthem during a welcoming ceremony for Liberman at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv, on May 31, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

Avigdor Liberman defied his critics and officially entered office as defense minister on Tuesday in a ceremony at the Defense Ministry’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv.

He was due immediately after the ceremony to meet with IDF Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other senior military figures for an initial security overview.

Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, was sworn in Monday after a Knesset vote approved his appointment.

Of the 99 lawmakers present in the plenum, 55 voted in favor of Liberman’s appointment and 43 against, with veteran Likud MK Benny Begin breaking party lines to abstain.

Likud party MK Benny Begin arrives for a faction meeting at the Knesset, May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Likud party MK Benny Begin arrives for a faction meeting at the Knesset, May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Begin on Tuesday hit out at “stupid” members of the right who expressed satisfaction at the resignation of defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and his replacement with Liberman.

Speaking to Army Radio, he warned that, based on statements Liberman made while sitting in the opposition, he expected the defense minister to seek policies that are “not considerate, not careful, not responsible, and not moderate.”

Monday’s Knesset vote came hours after the cabinet unanimously gave the go-ahead for the appointment as part of a deal to bring Liberman’s party into the coalition.

The addition of Yisrael Beytenu gives the governing coalition 66 of the 120-seat Knesset, bolstering its previously paper-thin majority of 61-59.

Following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Liberman, Ya’alon, a respected former IDF chief, announced that he would be resigning from the Knesset and temporarily retiring from politics.

Outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon arrives at a press conference to announce his resignation from politics, at army headquarters in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon arrives at a press conference to announce his resignation from politics, at army headquarters in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Politicians and pundits reacted with unease and disdain when the decision to appoint Liberman was first announced nearly two weeks ago, warning that giving the Defense Ministry to the firebrand politician was a dangerous move.

Liberman, who served as foreign minister before moving to the opposition after elections last year, lacks military experience, usually a prerequisite for Israeli defense ministers, but is outspoken on defense matters.

He famously split with Netanyahu, then a partner in a Knesset faction encompassing both Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, on how to manage the 2014 Gaza war and has been outspoken in demanding the death penalty in terrorism cases, to the extent that he made it a prerequisite for his joining the coalition after the elections last March. He later dropped the demand.

In a possible effort to assuage concerns over his past rhetoric, Liberman touted his pro-peace credentials in a Knesset address after Monday’s vote, hailing a recent speech by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi urging Israelis and Palestinians to return to talks as “a real opportunity.”

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