Avigdor Liberman is on the threshold of the job he has dreamed about for years.
Perhaps, deep down, he aspired to reach an even higher position, but when he realized that no one was going to entrust the leadership of the country in his hands, he decided to make the Defense Ministry his life’s goal.
Now he is closer to attaining that goal than ever before. The agreement has not been finalized. But Netanyahu has already endorsed it, and now the delegations of their two parties are meeting to convert the verbal deal into written form.
For Binyamin Netanyahu, there was no choice but to appoint Liberman. He would have preferred somebody else in that position. Under certain circumstances, even the continuance of Moshe Yaalon would have been a preferred option.
But he was caught in a difficult situation. When it became clear to him that his narrow coalition was held by the throat by a handful of MK’s in his party, individuals lacking all sense of responsibility, who were ready to bring down the government, just for the sake of scoring political points, Netanyahu decided he had to make a change.
Netanyahu hoped to bring in a significant part of Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Camp. But even though he had offered the party 10 senior ministerial and deputy ministerial positions, there was no prospect that more than three or four of the Zionist Camp MK’s would support the move, Netanyahu turned to his reliable intermediary, Shas chairman Rabbi Aryeh Deri, to bring in Avigdor Liberman and his party.
From the first moment of this change of direction on Wednesday, it was clear that the basic condition to their joining the coalition was the Defense Ministry. It is possible that if this situation had occurred six months ago, Liberman would not have become Defense Minister. Because Netanyahu would not have been willing to displace Moshe Yaalon.
But during this period, Yaalon — by his rush to judgment on the soldier who shot the terrorist in Chevron, his defense of Deputy IDF chief Yair Golan who compared Israel today to Germany on the eve of the Holocaust, and the right of officers to speak out even against the policies of their superiors — lost Netanyahu’s confidence.
After that, Netanyahu no longer felt constrained about replacing him with Liberman. Yaalon, despite being a respected military professional, lost his position, due to the influence of the group of aides and spokesmen who surrounded him and led him astray.
They will undoubtedly seek to blacken Liberman’s name, to depict him as an irresponsible, right-wing extremist. But he really isn’t that. The job will moderate him. If he doesn’t do anything foolish, if he behaves cautiously, he could surprise a lot of people.
What Liberman saw through the window of his car on the way to his home in Tekoa, he will not see from the windows of the 14th floor of the Ministry in Tel Aviv. He will not be able to be a good defense minister if he will not learn from Yaalon’s mistakes, and choose the right people for his staff.
In the final analysis, every defense minister must learn to work in harmony with the defense establishment, with the generals and the other military officials. He doesn’t declare war on his own, and doesn’t call out the IDF without first achieving a consensus within the security cabinet.
It will not be so terrible for the Defense Ministry if somebody takes over whose approach will differ from his predecessors, who came from within the military. He will certainly see things from a different perspective, one that might be more suitable for a new era in the Middle East.
At the same time, Liberman should understand that he is entering a minefield. If he supposes that he will take up again the battles he has fought in the past — such as for the drafting of yeshivah students — he is likely to be a disaster for himself and the prime minister. Liberman has to act intelligently. His old campaigns are no longer relevant. Furthermore, Netanyahu should apprise him of the fact that the chareidi parties who sit in the coalition are not “in his pocket” and their support cannot be taken for granted.
senior IDF officials looked shell-shocked on Wednesday when they realized who would be their next boss. But they will soon enough recover from the shock, and declare their willingness to work together with whomever the civilian leadership appoints. Just, as one of them remarked, “as long as he will work together with us.”
One thing is certain. It will be interesting.
And it will be interesting to see if, as in the past, a number of leaders on the right who reached positions of power, quickly switched to the left of the political spectrum, if this will also happen to the newly minted pair of Netanyahu-Liberman.
At a time like this we are reminded: We can trust only in Hashem.