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Ya’alon-Netanyahu spat continues amid accusations of hypocrisy

Shortly before PM offered him post of defense minister, the Likud party mocked Avigdor Liberman as ‘unqualified’ to comment on military matters

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit Israel's border with Jordan on September 6, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit Israel's border with Jordan on September 6, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The resignation on Friday of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is continuing to make waves as Israelis prepare to return from the weekend.

Sources close to both Ya’alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who fired the defense minister last week in favor of Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman – continue to supply the country’s political reporters with purported evidence of the other side’s “hypocrisy.”

Netanyahu sought last week to shore up his narrow 61-seat coalition by enticing Yisrael Beytenu into the fold by handing the Defense Ministry to Liberman. Whether the addition of Liberman’s five seats was worth the loss of so prominent a Likud ally as Ya’alon remains to be seen, however. A great deal depends on the political fallout in the coming days.

In an effort to steer that fallout in favorable directions, both sides are attempting to argue that the other is lying — Ya’alon in claiming that his resignation comes because he “lost faith” in Netanyahu, and Netanyahu in arguing that Liberman is a worthy candidate to be Israel’s top defense planner.

Critics of Liberman’s new appointment insist that Netanyahu agrees with them that the former foreign minister is a poor choice for defense, but is willing to compromise Israel’s security for political calculations. They point to a Likud party statement some three weeks ago, following a press conference in which Liberman lambasted Netanyahu’s defense policy as weak and hesitant, in which Likud blasted Liberman’s defense credentials.

“Liberman is trying to make a career change from failed political pundit to unqualified military analyst,” read the statement, likely approved by Netanyahu as are all Likud statements.

“A man who the only bullet that ever whistled past his ear was a tennis ball [in Hebrew, the word for ‘bullet’ is ‘ball’], a man who never led even a single soldier into battle or made a single operational decision in his life, a man who did not survive a single cabinet meeting from start to finish [without walking out] — cannot be a military analyst.”

It continued: “And if he’s not an analyst, then he is just a minor, chattering politician.”

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference in the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 18, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference in the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 18, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s backers are not without their rejoinder, however. They point to an Israel Radio interview with Ya’alon two weeks ago, in early May, in which the defense minister seems to give a glowing review of Netanyahu’s leadership and defense policies.

“I’ve worked with the prime minister for seven years already very closely, even more, because I was also the head of IDF intelligence when he was prime minister [in the 1990s],” Ya’alon said.

“I have a deep appreciation for his policy. We agree on the lion’s share of issues, but there are things on which we disagree. On the issue of the deputy chief of staff’s speech — since the prime minister met with the general staff and said this issue is behind us, it’s behind me as well.”

Ya’alon submitted his resignation to the Knesset on Saturday night. He will be formally replaced by the next-in-line on the Likud list, Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick, on Monday.

If coalition talks go as planned, Yisrael Beytenu is slated to formally join the government by Tuesday, the day that Liberman will officially start in his new post.

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