Israeli Cabinet OKs appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister

Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, speaking at a news conference at the Knesset, May 18, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, speaking at a news conference at the Knesset, May 18, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

(JTA) – The Israeli Cabinet unanimously approved the appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister on Monday, formalizing a coalition deal between his Yisrael Beiteinu party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

The vote came after weeks of talks initiated by Netanyahu to add the five Yisrael Beiteinu seats to his ruling government, bringing the total to 66 lawmakers out of the 120 in the Knesset, Israel Radio reported.

In the framework of the deal, Liberman’s right-wing party will also receive the immigrant absorption portfolio, with Sofa Lanver as minister. In another ministerial appointment, Tzachi Hanegbi of Likud was named a minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The vote followed a compromise reached between Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, who conditioned his joining the coalition on greater involvement by Cabinet ministers in security decisions. Bennett said the prime minister and defense minister did not inform other ministers of important military considerations, such as Hamas’ possession of terror tunnels ahead of the 2014 Gaza war.

Bennett insisted on the appointment of a military secretary to the Cabinet and greater access by ministers to classified information. Netanyahu offered to set up a committee to examine ways to implement these goals but Bennett rejected the offer, leading to a compromise under which the head of the National Security Council will act temporarily as the Cabinet’s military secretary, pending a permanent solution.

The coalition talks followed the May 20 resignation of defense minister Moshe Ya’alon of Likud amid an open disagreement between him and Netanyahu over Israeli army officers expressing themselves publicly on military and non-military issues.

The disagreement surfaced after Netanyahu condemned statements by Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, who on May 5 said Israeli society was witnessing trends reminiscent of those visible in Nazi Germany. Netanyahu condemned the remarks, but Ya’alon encouraged officers to continue to speak their minds.

Ya’alon said his resignation was over “growing extremism” within Likud under Netanyahu. But Netanyahu said Ya’alon had resigned because Netanyahu dismissed him as defense minister, offering instead to make him foreign minister.

On Friday, Avi Gabai of the centre-right Kulanu party resigned, citing disagreements with Netanyahu over policy.

The Israeli coalition is now made up of Likud, Kulanu, Jewish Home, Yisrael Beitenu and the haredi Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.

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