ANALYSIS: Netanyahu, Ya’alon Agree to Disagree

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, in a file photo. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, in a file photo. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

From the joint statement released by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon at the end of their meeting on Monday, it appeared that the differences between them were ironed out.

Not so. The two of them understood very quickly during the course of their meeting that they were liable to slide down a slippery slope of disagreement that would lead to a bigger blowup, and hastened to end the discussion in less than an hour.

They went home with the understanding that they would continue working together, but without agreement; or in other words, that they agreed to disagree on the issues at hand.

And what is it that the prime minister and his defense minister disagree about?

Many things. But what most disturbs Ya’alon and his close associates these days is the concern that Netanyahu is moving toward the formation of a unity government with the party of Isaac Herzog, and that part of the package to be handed over to the latter is the defense portfolio.

Part of the behavior of the defense minister has been designed to demonstrate that he knows how to fight, and that if his position is threatened, he will engage in a direct confrontation with the prime minister, and that includes a challenge to Netanyahu’s leadership of the Likud.

The confrontation between Netanyahu and Ya’alon is also related to the conduct of the IDF vis-à-vis terrorists, and the sharp internal debate that has been going on for a long time over the return of slain terrorists’ bodies to their families.

Netanyahu and some of the ministers hold that they should not rush to return the bodies of those who were killed while carrying out deadly attacks on Israeli citizens. Ya’alon, on the other hand, represents the defense establishment’s position that there should be no delay in returning them, because speedy burial damps down the terror, and not the other way around.

The flames of the controversy between Netanyahu and Ya’alon also spread to the issue of the soldier who shot the disabled terrorist in Chevron, whom Ya’alon had swiftly accused of serious wrongdoing even before anyone had investigated the incident, whereas Netanyahu contacted the parents of the soldier to offer them encouragement.

Matters reached their peak after the bizarre declaration of the deputy chief of the IDF, Yair Golan, comparing Israeli behavior to that of the Germans on the eve of the Holocaust. The statement outraged the prime minister, along with most Israelis — and again, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon rose up and defended Golan.

In that atmosphere, Netanyahu summoned Ya’alon to a meeting for clarification. He had no intention of firing him. He only sought to put him in his place. But Ya’alon arrived in a combative mood, and Netanyahu perceived that it was perhaps not the right time for another confrontation. So the meeting dissolved without any real resolution.

Which means that the atmosphere of controversy between the two remains as it was, and is liable to erupt again over some other issue on which they disagree — at some time in the not-too-distant future.

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