With the new coalition about to be put in place, the Defense Ministry will go to Likud’s Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, the former Minister of Strategic Affairs. In the past I argued that Ehud Barak would be missed as Israel’s Defense Minister, because of the restraint he could exercise on both Iran and settlements. Ben Caspit argues that Ya’alon is moderate, thoughtful, and careful. But I’m skeptical. His recent statements on Iran and the peace process (including the settlements and a Palestinian state) seem more in line with Benjamin Netanyahu, or even more with the hardliners in the party.
On Iran, Ya’alon believes—like most Israeli leaders—that it is the major strategic threat to the country. But where Barak viewed the use of force (against Iran or the Palestinians) as part of a larger foreign policy tool kit, Ya’alon seems bent on a military strike against Iran—sooner rather than later—to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He’s said that “The best defense is a good offense.” And he seems to have a less positive view of President Obama’s support for the Israeli position than Barak did, which could cause problems for coordination between Israel and the United States.
On the peace process, Ya’alon is more in line with Netanyahu’s “there is no Palestinian partner” argument, particularly when it comes to the demand to recognize Israel as the Jewish state. Indeed, this past January he ruled out any possibility of a Palestinian state.
Ya’alon is also less interested in the open exchange of ideas and criticism. When he attended a Jewish Leadership conference (a far-right faction within Likud whose head, Moshe Feiglin, advocates for the construction of a Third Temple), he called Peace Now a “virus” and continued that “Jews can and need to live in all of the Land of Israel for all eternity.”
Certainly Barak was no Peace Now member: he authorized “illegal settlements” and allowed his ministry, and the IDF, to facilitate the expansion of “legal” settlements and violent attacks by settlers against Palestinians and their property. But he wasn’t an unrestrained Greater Israel advocate either. This seems to have angered Ya’alon, who once called for Barak’s authority to determine settlements (which belongs to the Defense Minister) to be stripped away and given to others.
All of these hard-right positions will be amplified in the new government, because Ya’alon is not a serious contender for power either in Likud or in government. He can be counted on to support Netanyahu’s policies on the peace process and Iran, and because Bibi doesn’t view him as a threat he’ll be brought in to reinforce Bibi against Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni.
As I said before, we’ll soon miss Barak.