Friday, May 20, 2016 12:18 pm
Israel’s defence minister resigned on Friday, saying the nation was being taken over by “extremist and dangerous elements” after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved to replace him with a far-right politician in an effort to strengthen his coalition.
Reuters reported that Netanyahu has offered long-time rival Avigdor Lieberman the defence portfolio, a post crucial for a country on a perennial war footing and which runs civil affairs in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians struggling for statehood live in friction with Jewish settlers.
“To my great regret, I have recently found myself in difficult disputes over matters of principle and professionalism with the prime minister, a number of cabinet members and some lawmakers,” a grim-faced Moshe Yaalon said in a televised statement at the defence headquarters in Tel Aviv.
“The State of Israel is patient and tolerant towards the weak among it and minorities … But to my great regret extremist and dangerous elements have overrun Israel as well as the Likud party, shaking up the national home and threatening harm to those in it,” he said, in a hint he might defect from the party.
“In the future I will return to contend for Israel’s national leadership,” Yaalon added.
Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to his comments.
Yaalon’s departure could put a new dent in domestic and Western confidence in the Netanyahu government.
Yaalon, a former chief of Israel’s armed forces, had shored up relations with the Pentagon that provided a counter-weight to Netanyahu’s policy feuds with U.S. President Barack Obama over peace talks with the Palestinians and Iran’s nuclear programme.
By contrast, Lieberman – whose appointment has not yet been confirmed – is inexperienced militarily and famed for his past hawkish talk against Palestinians, Israel’s Arab minority and Egypt – an important regional security partner for Israel.
U.S. COMMITMENT “ABSOLUTE”
An Egyptian official told Reuters on Thursday that Cairo was “shocked” at the prospect of Lieberman as Israeli defence minister. But Washington struck a more optimistic note.
“We appreciate Mr. Yaalon’s leadership and partnership as defence minister and we look forward to working with his successor,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “Our bonds of friendship are unbreakable and our commitment to the security of Israel remains absolute.”