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Israeli defense minister steps down

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon announced his resignation Friday, May 20, 2016, citing a lack of ‘trust’ in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Reports over the past few days indicate that Netanyahu intends to appoint former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman to the post.

TEL AVIV, Israel >> Israel’s defense minister officially stepped down on Sunday, capping a tumultuous week of politics that is expected to replace the former military chief with an inexperienced hard-liner in the sensitive post.

Moshe Yaalon’s departure cleared the way for Avigdor Lieberman, one of Israel’s most polarizing politicians, to take over as defense chief.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week invited Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party into the government in a move meant to shore up his narrow governing majority. But Lieberman reportedly demanded the Defense Ministry as a condition, forcing Netanyahu to ask Yaalon to step aside. Yaalon angrily announced his resignation on Friday, saying the government has been taken over by “extremist and dangerous elements.”

Netanyahu and Lieberman were still negotiating their coalition agreement on Sunday, and it was unclear when he would formally join the government.

Yaalon was one of the last moderate voices in Netanyahu’s Likud Party.

He held a brief ceremony at Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv, where he was greeted by an honor guard and shook hands with the military leadership. After the ceremony, Yaalon was whisked away in a jeep without commenting publicly.

His departure leaves the Cabinet dominated by religious and ultranationalist ministers who oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state and have close ties to the West Bank settler movement. Lieberman himself is a West Bank settler.

In a three decade political career, Lieberman has at times been Netanyahu’s closest ally and at other times a rival. While he is an experienced politician who has been foreign minister and held other top jobs, his security experience is limited. Yaalon is a former chief of the Israeli military, while Lieberman only had a brief, low-level career in the army.

Over the years, Lieberman has made headlines for a series of incendiary comments. At one point, he called for bombing Egypt’s Aswan Dam and suggested toppling the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Just a few weeks ago, he threatened to kill a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip. He has repeatedly voiced skepticism about pursuing peace with the Palestinians.

He has also questioned the loyalty of Israel’s Arab minority and is reportedly pushing for a death penalty against Arabs convicted of terrorism.

At home, however, the tensions between Yaalon and Netanyahu had little to do with Mideast peacemaking, and much more to do with the role of the military in Israeli society.

The men clashed following the fatal shooting of a wounded Palestinian attacker by an Israeli soldier caught on video last March.

Military leaders said the soldier’s behavior violated army norms and ethics, while hardliner politicians sided with the serviceman. With the soldier now on trial for manslaughter in a military court, Yaalon has backed the army. Lieberman went to the court to show solidarity with the soldier.

Tensions escalated earlier this month when a senior general compared current trends in Israeli society to the atmosphere in Nazi-era Germany. The comments, made at a Holocaust memorial event, infuriated Netanyahu, while Yaalon backed the general’s right to express his opinion.

Those close to Lieberman say he is more pragmatic and level-headed than he appears in public.

Speaking to his Cabinet Sunday, Netanyahu said he was committed to pursuing peace with the Palestinians, in an apparent attempt to ease concerns over Lieberman’s arrival.

Peace talks have ground to a standstill since Netanyahu took office in 2009 due to the large gaps between him and the Palestinians over virtually all key issues.

Netanyahu has endorsed the idea of the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement. But he has added a series of conditions that have led the Palestinians to conclude that there is no point in negotiating with him. The international community, including the U.S. and European Union, have largely backed the Palestinians and urged Netanyahu to soften his positions.

Netanyahu told his Cabinet that as he prepares to add a new partner to his governing coalition, he will “continue to seek a peace process with the Palestinians.”

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  • Israel is not an ally of the USA at all and has cost the USA billions of wasted dollars. Many of our recent problems with terrorism are tied to our terrible connections to Saudi Arabia and Israel that both fund terrorism. Just two horrible countries and we can’t seem to shake free of them.

      • The land is home to Israelis and Palestinians. Obama is right to push a two-state solution. Israel has cost American billions and billions of dollars.Bernie Sanders, a jew, has denounced Israel in very strong terms. Saudi Arabia helped to fund 9-11. Please read up on these things.

    • By that same reasoning, the Native Americans did not have a right to defend themselves when their existence was threatened by invading armies.

  • This dramatic change may be very crucial to Israel’s survival. Peace up to now was the stabilizing factor. Having a hawk in charge of the Defense Ministry certainly poses a serious threat to this peace and relations with the US and/or the Saudis? This change may have been precipitated by the our recent agreement with Iran to lift the $150 plus billion dollars economic sanctions.

    • What peace up to now, cojef? Netty and his henchmen are leading Israel into another conflct which can be averted. The Israeli leaders must realize that they are surrounded by hostile countries and it’s not getting any better by being hawkish. Netty is the prime reason why there is so much hostility. With the advent of drone technology, no country or person is secure.

  • Our one-sided policy toward Israel has produced nothing but chaos. We give them billions of dollars every year and get nothing but heartache in return. It’s time to treat the people of Israel and Palestine equally and maybe we’ll finally have peace in the region. At least stop them from constantly building new homes in the occupied areas. It’s exactly like our failed policy in Cuba. After fifty years, the president finally realized our policy there wasn’t exactly working so he brought about substantial change in Cuba. The same can be done in the mid-east.

    • agree..we are paying a very heavy price for the endless Bush-Obama war on terrorism which was engendered by Israeli policies slavishly agreed to by the uSA. Our entire way of life has changed. Wish we could have gone the way of Switzerland!

  • Bibi’s doing everything he can to wear out his welcome in the last country that supports Israel in the UN and supplies it with more money and weaponry than we lavish on any other country in the world. With Lieberman in charge of the IDF, we will see more killings of Palestinians by both the IDF and illegal settlers who will think they’re off the leash.

    The Palestinian Slowlocaust will pick up speed and the rest of the world will see Israel even more as the rogue, pariah state it’s in fact become.

    This is no longer the persecuted Israel of the Egyptian Exodus. This is the ethnic-cleansing Israel of Joshua 15. They have worn out their welcome with the civilized world.

    • The Europeans realized this long ago but the Jewish lobby and Jewish $$$$$ in the US have kept our politicians siding with Israel every time. If they dare to vote against Israel, the Jewish lobby will bury them in the next election.

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