Israel’s defence minister has resigned from the government after the worst Gaza violence in four years, arguing that Israel was capitulating to Hamas and “buying quiet” with a truce.
Avigdor Lieberman, who replaced the former Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon in 2016, said Israel had pandered to terrorists in agreeing to a ceasefire, despite Israeli jets bombing more than 100 Gaza sites in response to 400 rockets.
Lieberman, whose right-wing party forms part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, went on Israeli TV to give his reasons for resigning at a crucial time, a decision that may precipitate new elections.
“What happened yesterday with the cease-fire and the entire process of reaching an agreement with Hamas amounts to surrendering to terror, there is no other explanation,” he said. “What we have done recently is buy quiet for the short term but we will end up paying a high price for our long term quiet.”
Egyptian intelligence chiefs have spent months shuttling between Jerusalem and Gaza to prepare the groundwork for a long-term truce and were believed to be close to achieving this, but Netanyahu has said in recent days that he does not believe there can be a diplomatic solution.
He nevertheless has been highly reluctant to launch another full offensive against the impoverished Strip, as he did in 2014. The UN later accused Israeli leaders of “war crimes,” with 67 Israeli soldiers and 2,251 Palestinians killed.
The latest flare-up began after an Israeli Special Forces team slipped into Gaza on Sunday and killed a Hamas commander, but the mission ended in disaster as their presence was detected. In Israeli Lieutenant Colonel was killed in the ensuing fire, and another Israeli soldier was critically injured.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu appeared to contrast his position to that of Lieberman’s, saying: “In times of emergency and when making crucial decisions in the field of security, the public cannot always be a partner to the crucial considerations.
“At these moments, leadership is not about doing the easy thing. Leadership is about doing the right thing, even if it is difficult.”
Lieberman’s resignation takes effect on Friday, expanding Netanyahu’s remit to include the roles of prime minister, foreign minister, defence minister and health minister, but analysts suggested Lieberman’s exit was political opportunism.
“With elections looming Lieberman had a dilemma,” explained BICOM chief executive James Sorene.
“With just six seats and five percent of the vote, how can he expand his shrinking base? Resigning now, riding a wave of discontent with the situation in Gaza and clearly setting out his position is not a bad way to start a campaign.”
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