JERUSALEM (Mar. 6)
A suddenly developed security threat on the Syrian front–a reported massive build-up of forces–was said today to have been responsible for last night’s unexpected announcement by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Transport Minister Shimon Peres that they will serve in a new Cabinet after all. The two leaders of the Labor Party’s former Rafi faction reversed their earlier decision not to serve after attending a hastily called emergency session of the care-taker Cabinet. The Cabinet sat as a ministerial security committee, and thereby in secret, presumably to discuss the ominous reports from the Syrian front. The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement at midnight saying that Dayan and Peres had informed Premier Golda Meir that they would join her new government. The statement said that Mrs. Meir would present her Cabinet slate to President Ephraim Katzir tonight. No details were released on the reported sudden military build-up by the Syrians but as of noon today tension was reported to be mounting there. (See separate story.)
Israel’s political crisis also appeared to be easing on another front. A majority of the National Religious Party was reported today to be in favor of joining a Labor-led coalition government. A five-man NRP delegation met with Mrs. Meir this afternoon and may have reached some sort of tentative agreement based on a compromise suggested by Labor for handling the Who is a Jew issue. Peres claimed on a radio interview today that he and Dayan had been determined to stay out of the new government but certain security information reaching the Cabinet late last night prompted an immediate reversal of their positions. Peres said it was more essential for Dayan to remain at the helm of security affairs than for himself to stay in the government but indicated that he would continue in the interests of party unity. He noted that since the surprise attack Israel suffered last Yom Kippur day, it could not afford to ignore “disturbing reports” from the Syrian front.
Initial public reaction was one of skepticism, however. Many Israelis, disenchanted of late with politics and politicians, regarded the alleged emergency as a “put up job” intended to allow Dayan and Peres to return to the fold without losing face. Although Dayan told reporters this morning that the “subject discussed at last night’s special Cabinet session” made him change his mind, many reporters attributed his reversal to purely political motives. They said that Rafi had been concerned lest its faction lose the defense portfolio. Should it fall to Yitzhak Rabin, the popular former ambassador to Washington who is considered the most likely potential successor to Dayan, Rafi felt it would be irretrievably lost even if Dayan would, at a later date, decide to join the new government. The Rafi-ites also feared that a Cabinet without Dayan would be too doveish in orientation for their taste, the reporters said.
Mrs. Meir is expected to name 19-20 ministers to her new Cabinet and to leave 3-4 vacancies for the NRP which is expected to join. The NRP promised her a decision in principal tonight, before she visits President Katzir. The new Cabinet will have some new faces. Rabin is expected to be named Minister of Labor, replacing Yosef Almogi who is resigning to serve as Mayor of Haifa. Former Mayor Yehoshua Rabinowitz of Tel Aviv, will be named Minister of Housing and MK Haim Zadok Minister of Justice. Aharon Uzzan, leader of the Moshav movement is expected to receive the communications portfolio. Gideon Hausner, the Independent Liberal Party leader, reportedly will be appointed Minister-Without-Portfolio. The rest of the Cabinet will consist of incumbents, including Dayan and Peres. The latter, however, is expected to be switched from Minister of Transport to Minister of Information.
If the NRP finally agrees to join the government Mrs. Meir would not have to rely on a shaky minority regime. NRP’s “young guard” is still holding out against any compromise on the Who is a Jew issue. Its leaders, Zevulun Hammer and Meir Ben Yehuda, vowed to fight to keep the NRP out of the coalition, though they conceded that a majority of the party now wants to join. They hinted that they would seek the support of the Chief Rabbinate. But the latter was enjoined by the Supreme Court yesterday not to interfere in the formation of a government. NRP leaders tried again–and failed–today to persuade Premier Meir to agree to amend the Law of Return so as to invalidate conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis. Political observers said the NRP would probably go along with a compromise that would defer the issue for a year. Even if the NRP does not immediately enter Mrs. Meir’s new Cabinet, it is expected to support the government in the Knesset; observers said.