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Begin to Hold Defense Ministry Post Until Coalition Ends Dispute over Weizman’s Replacement

June 2, 1980
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Premier Menachem Begin announced today that he will serve as Defense Minister until the coalition crisis over the replacement of former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman is resolved. Begin’s interim appointment of himself was approved by the Cabinet at its weekly meeting and will be announced officially tomorrow. The Cabinet also reappointed Mordechai Zipori as Deputy Defense Minister. ###

Weizman resigned officially on May 26 with a scathing attack on the performance of the Likud-led government in which he served for the last three years. Begin promptly announced that Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir; who took office in March, would be shifted to the defense slot and that Energy Minister Yitzhak Modai, leader of Likud’s Liberal Party, would be named the new Foreign Minister.

His plans ran into stiff opposition from the Democratic Movement which said Modai was unacceptable to it, from the National Religious Party which complained that it was not consulted in advance and from Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon who presented himself as the most suitable candidate for Defense Minister and threatened to resign if the post went to Shamir. He accepted the interim appointment of Begin.


Today’s Cabinet session was marked by sharp exchanges between Sharon and Begin. Sharon, a Yom Kippur War hero and the Cabinet’s most outspoken hawk, claimed that if Shamir became Defense Minister and Modai Foreign Minister, Begin would have “abandoned the security of Israel.” Begin retorted that he did not consider it necessary to have a military man as Defense Minister and noted that in many countries, including Britain and the U.S., that office traditionally is held by a civilian.

Many observers believe that the hard-line Sharon was, in fact, Begin’s first choice to replace Weizman. But he was served notice by the DM and the Liberal Party that they would oppose Sharon. The Liberals insist that they will accept only Modai who emerged as the party’s strong man in its internal elections last month. The DM claims Modai lacks the qualifications to serve as Foreign Minister and has been pushing its own No. 2 man, Justice Minister Shmuel Tamir, for the Job.

The NRP is the only coalition partner which has indicated that it will hold off for the time being and not adopt a final position. Begin met with on NRP delegation Friday and apparently reached an understanding with them. Although Begin himself threatened to resign last week unless the Cabinet crisis is resolved, he changed his mind. He reportedly told the NRP members that if he quit now, bringing down the Likud government, the next government might be headed by the Labor Alignment which could mean, according to Begin, handing the West Bank over to the Arabs to form a Palestinian state. “My hands will not spill this blood,” he said. Meanwhile, the Labor Party charged the Begin government with endangering national security. “The security and the very existence of the State have become toys in the hands of a quarrelsome and unstable government,” the Labor Party said over the weekend. “It is not a matter of conflict between the opposition and the government but real concern for our existence,” the party communique said.

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