Close Begin Aide Challenges Premier’s Move to Appoint Sharon Defense Minister in New Government

Premier Menachem Begin’s probable appointment of Ariel Sharon as Defense Minister in a new Likud-led government was sharply challenged today by one of Begin’s close aides who is also a contender for that post.

Reacting to press reports that Begin has made a final decision to offer the defense portfolio to the ultra-hawkish Yom Kippur War hero, Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori said he regarded himself to be first in line for the job “unless Begin would prefer to stay Defense Minister” himself. Sharon’s appointment would be “a national disaster,” Zipori was reported to have said in private. While he denied that he had made this statement he did not deny his opposition to Sharon’s appointment.

Sharon, who is Minister of Agriculture in the outgoing government, has made it clear that he expects the defense post. According to some reports, he has threatened not to support the Likud coalition in the Knesset if it is denied him. Responding to that, Zipori is said to have reminded Begin that his Knesset vote carries as much weight as Sharon’s.

Sharon, who opposed the Camp David agreements and the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and demands unrestricted Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, is known to have been Begin’s choice for Defense Minister when Ezer Weizman resigned last year. But strong opposition from other ministers forced Begin to take over the defense portfolio himself, retaining Zipori who had served as Weizman’s deputy.

Although a new Likud government is expected to be dominated by hawks, in the absence of Weizman, Moshe Dayan and Yigael Yadin who were the strongest moderates in the previous government, there is still opposition to Sharon. It is most pronounced in Likud’s Liberal Party branch and among some members of the National Religious Party which is expected to continue to be a Likud coalition partner.

LABOR FEARS LOSS OF ARAB BLOC

Meanwhile, an official of the opposition Labor Alignment warned his party today that it stands to lose the unexpectedly large bloc of Arab support it won in the June 30 Knesset elections unless it can produce some gains for Israel’s Arab citizens.

Ra’anan Cohen, who headed the Alignment’s election campaign in the Arab sector, told Labor activists in the Negev that the election results showed a strong trend toward Labor among Arab voters at the expense of the Communist Hadash faction. Labor won about 30 percent of the Arab vote in Communist strongholds while Hadash’s share dropped by 11 percent.

But Cohen warned that this trend is not unconditional. The Arab citizens expect much more to be done to integrate them as full members of Israel’s society, he said. If Labor fails to accomplish this, the Arabs will revert to the Communists or other extremist factions, he said.

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