ANALYSIS: A New Defense Minister, A New Liberman

Israel's new Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman (R), head of far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, reviews an honour guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
New Defense Minister, Avigdor Liberman (R), reviews an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Tuesday. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

Anyone listening Monday to the statements made by new Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman after his appointment was unanimously approved at the Cabinet meeting, and later after he was sworn in office at the Knesset, understands that this is not just a new minister, but also a new Liberman.

At 12 noon Tuesday, the checkpoint at the Begin Gate, the entrance to the Kirya army base in Tel Aviv, was opened and the armored car carrying Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman entered the parking lot. The new defense minister then walked out onto the red carpet, surrounded by three rows of saluting soldiers. The orchestra played and the trumpeters presented their fanfare as befits a reception reserved for key figures; in the row opposite the minister, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkott and all members of the IDF General Staff stood, waiting to shake hands.

Seven minutes later, the minister went up to his office on the 14th floor and, for the first time, sat down in the chair he so dreamed of reaching.

He is now the new minister, sitting and working in the Ministry of Defense.

But in his first remarks as minister in the Knesset on Monday, Liberman surprised everyone when he said he supports a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

He said he was supportive of “the beginning of an era of vast opportunities to reach agreement in the Middle East.” He spoke of the “pragmatic speech of President al-Sisi, heralding nothing but good.” And he remarked that the recent Arab proposals “create opportunities.”

Liberman said that there are some “very positive” elements in the recent Arab initiative that could make for a “serious dialogue with all the neighbors in the region.”

Thus, the Liberman who entered the IDF Kirya has given many signs that he wants to become a sort of Menachem Begin of this era. This is an entirely new Liberman: one who asked to set up a meeting with Eizenkot to discuss “everything.” One who wants to have good relationships with everyone in the IDF General Staff. Or, as he said to one of his associates, “I’m going to surprise.” That is a surprising statement in itself…

The IDF has already forgotten who was manning the minister’s office until only a week ago. From Tuesday afternoon there is a new minister, and they fall in line —because he was one step ahead and tried to fall in line with them. All those who were sure that this was going to be a head-on collision between the minister and the IDF chief of staff have seemingly been proven wrong. The pair will work in tandem, hand in hand. Disagreements? Of course there will be, as there are between any two people working together. But these are not conflicts, and of course not wars.

Liberman is not going to war — not in the Kirya and not with others in the IDF — unless he comes to feel that the heat is on him and he is in the corner. And we’re not there yet. His pragmatism will prevail over all else.

Does this mean that the new minister is going to succeed in the Defense Ministry?

Experience tells us that it is very difficult to succeed there. It is a very demanding office where it is not at all simple to bring about real achievements. Yet Liberman has come to work. This is the goal he set for himself. He began to learn the material and to recognize not only the players he has to deal with, but also the narrow streets of the Kirya and the members of the General Staff.

We can only daven for his success.


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