On November 18th, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named himself Defense Minister in addition to also being the Foreign Minister and Health Minister.
He began his speech with a long and detailed account of the five years he spent in the military, as a soldier and officer in the IDF’s most elite of units, Sayeret Matka. He also spoke about how he almost died in the Suez Canal during the War of Attrition. He also mentioned how he was wounded in the rescue mission on the hijacked Sabena Airliner in 1972. He did not mention that he was wounded by friendly fire. He also mentioned his brother, Yoni’s death in Entebbe.
He emphasized his combat record, not only because he assumed the post of Defense Minister, but also because this was his first election speech of the 2019 campaign.
Experts and media are expecting snap elections, and according to Haaretz it is likely that Benjamin Netanyahu will lose them. The Prime Minister, of course, refuses to acknowledge that there will be elections.
Netanyahu insisted that there should be no election for another 12 months and that in such “a complex security period” it would be “irresponsible” to hold an early election.
“We are in them midst of a military campaign, and you don’t leave during a campaign, you don’t play with politics,” he said, criticizing former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s decision to resign, as well as Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is threatening to also leave. “The security of the state is above all else,” Netanyahu said.
He also condemned that Jewish Home Chairman Bennett demanded a ministerial position as a condition to stay in the coalition. “There is no place for politics or personal considerations,” when it comes to Israel’s security.
The current Education minister threatened to “bring down the government” if he is not named Defense Minister. Without the Jewish Home, Netanyahu’s coalition would shrink from 61 seats to just 53 and lose the required majority of the 120-seat Knesset to survive no-confidence motions.
Bennett, along with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also threatened to leave the government on the morning of November 19th.
It should be OK, however, even if both Bennett and Shaked resign. Netanyahu is more than likely capable of encompassing all minister positions in his own cabinet, to highlight Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East.” And not simply a totalitarian regime in which the Prime Minister can also hold three different positions in his own cabinet simultaneously.
On the morning of November 19th, Bennett and Shaked walked back on their resignation threats handing Netanyahu a “big win”. The Education Minister also downplayed “the apocalyptic predictions” that Netanyahu made in his speech.
“We are facing a security challenge not because of an apocalyptic reason but because there have always been threats,” Bennett said. ”Something bad is happening to Israel. We have stopped winning.”
In his Trump-style, “winning-focused” speech Bennett also reiterated the government’s inability to implement right-wing policies.
“The ship, called the State of Israel, is floating in a wrong direction,” Bennett said. “There is what to do and when Israel decides to win we will go back to winning.”
He also reiterated that Netanyahu is capable of restoring Israel’s strength and deterrence and if that happens the Education Minister would remove all his conditions.
Netanyahu didn’t explain why this week suddenly constitutes a more complex security period than any other period. However, he did explain in four different ways within the space of two minutes that as the leader he makes the decisions based on confidential intelligence and that the Israeli public just has to trust him on it. He, however, didn’t mention Gaza a single time, nor the ceasefire with Hamas that led to Lieberman’s resignation.
Netanyahu’s speech was obviously aimed at changing the narrative from the weak and war-shy prime minister to that of Israel’s ultimate security chief.
It is also not uncommon for Israeli officials to hold various posts in government. Lieberman began his government career in 2001, as Minister of National Infrastructure, then as Minister of Transportation, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Strategic Affairs, once more as Deputy Prime Minister, twice as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and finally as Minister of Defense.
It is interesting to mention that Netanyahu isn’t the first Prime Minister to also assume the role of Defense Chief. David Ben-Gurion was both during most of his time in power. Levi Eshkol did it, until on the eve of the Six-Day War. Menachem Begin did it. Yitzhak Rabin in his second term and so did Ehud Barak.
Also considering Israeli’s approach towards the Palestinians, it is not really surprising that Israel appears to not be such a “staple of democracy,” as it attempts to present itself as.
However, with Netanyahu being Prime Minister and also assuming three other ministerial roles at the same time means that Israel’s leadership has lost all semblance of modesty.
Even the condemned and “evil” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad only keeps his presidential position and assumes no other office in government.
It would be interesting, however, what the international outcry would be if Assad also announced that he is to become Syrian Foreign, Defense and Health Minister.