Israeli Defense Minister Resigns, Coalition Expands Right

On Friday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon resigned, giving up his seat as a Likud Member of Knesset (MK) amid talks with right-wing Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) Party. On Sunday, Lieberman is expected to be sworn in as the new defense minister in place of Yaalon. This move increases the government’s stability and potential for accomplishing its pre-election promises and goals.

Yaalon’s resignation followed the announcement of the impending appointment of Lieberman to the post. The inclusion of Yisrael Beitenu into the coalition came as a surprise since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Leader of the Opposition, Yitzhak Herzog, were apparently close to finalizing a deal. If Herzog had brought the left-center Zionist Camp into the coalition, it would have been seen, internationally, as a clear move to re-open peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Herzog would probably have been appointed foreign minister. It was not clear, however, whether or not Herzog would have been able to convince the more left-wing branch of his party to enter a coalition with Netanyahu.

Growing Tension Between Yaalon and Netanyahu

It is believed that Defense Minister Yaalon may not have resigned had he been offered the position of foreign minister, a role Benjamin Netanyahu holds even as he serves as prime minister. Some reports, however, say that he was, in fact, offered the foreign ministry, but resigned out of protest over the inclusion of Lieberman’s party in the coalition. In Yaalon’s announcement of his resignation, he made a point of describing his growing dissatisfaction with the direction the government is taking, becoming the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

Defense Minister Yaalon and Prime Minister Netanyahu worked well together during the build-up to the war against Hamas in July, 2014, and during the operation itself.

Israeli Defense Minister Yaalon with Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF forces near Gaza. Yaalon resigned over tensions with Netanyahu.
Tensions between the defense minister and the prime minister rose to the surface after the incident in March, in which a soldier fatally shot a terrorist in Hebron as he lay wounded on the ground. Immediately after a video was released to the public showing the soldier shoot the terrorist in the head, Yaalon publicly condemned the act as contrary to IDF ethical standards of behavior. Netanyahu criticized Yaalon for his statement, expressing his confidence in the IDF. The soldier is currently standing trial for manslaughter. The country remains conflicted over this issue.

Leading up to Yaalon’s resignation were other conflicts regarding public statements concerning Israeli society and the IDF. Yaalon praised IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan who spoke at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony of his despair regarding increasing extremism within Israel; Netanyahu criticized Golan for drawing comparisons between Israel and pre-World War II Germany. Last week, Yaalon further angered Netanyahu by telling IDF officers to continue expressing their personal opinions. This counters traditional separation in Israel between the military and the political leadership sectors of society and, at the same time, reflects growing tensions between left-leaning and right-leaning citizens.

Yaalon is Not the First MK to Resign

Retired Commander in Chief of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Yaalon has been a respected MK since 2009. He is the seventh MK to resign his seat in the current term, some of whom left to take other positions, such as Danny Danon who is Israel’s new Ambassador to the U.N. and others, such as Silvan Shalom, who decided to leave political life entirely. In contrast, Yaalon says he will return to politics at some future time.

As a result of the deal made between Lieberman and Netanyahu, Deputy Leader of Yisrael Beitenu, Orli Abacasis Levy, handed in her resignation from the party, but not from the Knesset. She is angry that she was not brought into the coalition negotiations. According to her, Lieberman did not include social welfare issues in the negotiation in spite of the fact that these form a significant part of their party platform.

The Israeli electoral system is by proportional representation. Voters place their ballots for a party and not an individual representative. Therefore, Defense Minister Yaalon’s resignation means that the next person on the Likud party list will take his seat in the Knesset. The new MK is Yehuda Glick, a religious right-winger who has promised to promote the right for Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. He is, however, also a bridge-builder and works to encourage peaceful and respectful relations between Muslims and Jews.

[Photo by Gali Tibbon/AP Images]