Israel’s defense minister quits, citing rising extremism


(JTA) — Following reports of his imminent replacement, Moshe Yaalon resigned as Israel’s defense minister, citing distrust of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rising extremism.

The resignation by Yaalon, who is rumored to be replaced with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, came in a statement Friday, Ynet reported.

Yaalon said his resignation was due to Netanyahu’s “conduct during recent developments and in light of lack of trust in him.” He also said he was leaving politics.

“Israel and Likud have been taken over by extremist and dangerous entities that are undermining our home and threatening its dwellers,” he said.

Likud, Ya’alon added, “is no longer the movement I joined” and the majority of its voters “ought to realize the depth of the rift and the poisonous attitude that is taking over the movement,” he said. Apparently taking aim at Netanyahu, he said: “Senior politicians have elected to deepen and inflame divisions within Israeli society instead of promoting unity. It is insufferable to me that we should be divided for cynical reasons.”

Earlier this week, officials from Netanyahu’s Likud party confirmed that talks were ongoing to have Yaalon, a Likud member and former chief of staff, replaced with Liberman, leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party. The talks involved bringing Yisrael Beiteinu into the coalition, a move that would have broadened from 61 to 67 the coalition’s number of seats in Knesset, which has 120 lawmakers.

In a statement Friday, Netanyahu said: “I regret Bogie Yaalon’s decision,” using Yaalon’s nickname. “I think he should have remained a full partner in the country’s leadership as foreign  minister.”

Netanyahu said Yaalon was not asked to drop the position due to any “crisis in trust” but as part of a political deal designed “to being stability to Israel as it faces major challenges.” He added he offered Yaalon the post of foreign minister, but that Yaalon decided to resign instead.

Yaalon’s resignation follows discord between him and Netanyahu over policy issues, most recently on whether Israel Defense Forces officers should be permitted to express their personal opinions publicly.

Netanyahu had harshly condemned Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan’s drawing of parallels between Nazi Germany and Israeli society during a Holocaust commemoration ceremony earlier this month.

“If there’s something that frightens me about the memory of the Holocaust is the recognition of revolting processes that happened in Europe in general and in Germany in particular back then, 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and finding proof of their presence here, in our midst, in 2016,” Golan said.

Yaalon subsequently called on IDF officers to “continue to speak their mind.”

Liberman’s prospective appointment provoked fierce opposition from left-wing and centrist politicians.

Yuval Diskin, a former head of the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, wrote an Op-Ed that was published in Yedioth Acharonoth Friday saying that Liberman’s appointment may be the “beginning of the end” of the State of Israel because it would encourage Jewish fundamentalists and place the defense establishment under the control of “an insecure prime minister and an inexperienced defense minister.” He said he would not trust them to use the army responsibly.

Diskin also revealed in his Op-Ed that Yaalon disobeyed direct orders while serving as the head of the IDF Israeli Central Command in 1998, when Netanyahu was prime minister. He presented the revelation in a positive light.

The Shin Bet was ordered to storm a building near Hebron with two Hamas terrorists inside. The IDF was ordered to keep away from the area to avoid escalation, but Yaalon sent troops anyway because he disagreed with the order, Diskin said.

Yaalon and another senior officer told Diskin that “despite the decision of the defense minister and the chief of staff, they were sending the troops we required as backup. I was proud of their courage to take such a decision,” Diskin said.

With Yaalon walking away from his seat in the Knesset representing Likud, stepping in to replace him will be Yehuda Glick, a U.S. native who leads a group that advocates for wider Jewish access to the Temple Mount.

In October 2014, he was seriously wounded in an attempted assassination at the Menachem Begin Center in Jerusalem by a Palestinian gunman. As a guide, he also leads groups of Jewish tours to the Temple Mount.

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