A right-wing, relatively hawkish figure by any other nation’s standards, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has found himself increasingly vilified by the rest of the far-right coalition, which has lashed him for repeated calls for the Israeli military to behave in an ethical manner and not kill indiscriminately.
The defense minister in the last two governments, the right-far-right government of 2013 and the far-right government of 2015, Ya’alon was being shifted elsewhere with the installation of a new, even-farther-right government, and opted to resign today, leaving both the cabinet and the parliament in the process.
On his way out, Ya’alon cautioned that the ethical issues of the new government pose an existential threat to Israel, warning that “extremists” have effectively taken over the government, with the incoming defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, an ultra-right hawk who has publicly called for the beheading of “disloyal” members of Israel’s ethnic Arab minority.
Ya’alon’s predecessor Ehud Barak, who held the defense portfolio from 2007-2013, echoed his concerns, saying the new Netanyahu-Lieberman government “is exhibiting signs of fascism.” He added that Lieberman was “unfit” for the position of defense minister.
Ya’alon’s comparative moderacy had been fueling political rows in Israel for awhile now, with the Jewish Home Party loudly condemning him and getting in increasingly public fights with Netanyahu. While it was initially thought Netanyahu might replace Jewish Home with the center-left Zionist Union, he surprised many with his 180, shifting further right and effectively placating Jewish Home, which cheered the replacement of Ya’alon with Lieberman.
Ya’alon will be replaced by Likud rabbi Yehuda Glick, primarily known for his advocacy for the creation of a new “sacrificial altar” on the Temple Mount. His calls to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount will likely please a lot of the religious settlers groups in the government, but his stance that the existing al-Aqsa Mosque remain and be open for Muslims is likely to put him in the awkward position of moderate.
He’ll just be a low ranking MP, however, and the real question is, with Ya’alon previously tapped as the incoming cabinet’s foreign minister, if someone else will take that mantle. The 2015 government had no foreign minister, while Lieberman held that post in 2013, though his bellicosity effectively forced Netanyahu to run diplomacy out of the prime minister’s office with most nations.
Netanyahu may decide to keep the post empty, with no other high-profile ministers to give it to, but some reports have suggested that this spot could be dangled as an inducement to the centrist Yesh Atid party to join the coalition.
Installing Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid as foreign ministry might be a best-case scenario for the new far-right government, as it would put a well-spoken moderate and charismatic former TV news anchor forward as the public face of the government internationally. His status as a moderate, however, and his support for Palestinian statehood, are likely to put him a bit too ideologically at odds to make a comfortable fit.