How Netanyahu Showed the Army Who’s Boss by Handing the Keys to the Far Right

J.J. Goldberg writes: There are many ways to describe the Israeli cabinet shakeup that brings arch-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman into the Netanyahu government as defense minister. It’s a broadening and firming of a shaky coalition. It’s a lurch to the right. It’s a settling of scores. Most consequentially, though, it might be called a military coup in reverse.
That is, it’s a sudden strike by Israel’s civilian government to reassert control over a military that’s been acting lately like an alternate source of authority. On issues as large as regional strategy toward Iran or relations with the Palestinian Authority and as small as rules for opening fire, the military command has repeatedly questioned, challenged or openly clashed with its civilian bosses. That’s untenable in a democratic society. A counter-move was inevitable.
By removing defense minister Moshe Yaalon, a former career soldier and military chief of staff who’s part and parcel of Israel Defense Forces culture, and replacing him with Lieberman, a frequent critic of the military brass, Netanyahu is showing the generals who’s boss. That may not be what Netanyahu intended in this latest round of coalition musical chairs, but that’s what happened.
On the flip side, the change of ministers appears to have alarmed and demoralized the army command. And not just the army. In unseating Yaalon, the prime minister has deposed one of Israel’s most respected military minds. Replacing him with Lieberman, he’s put one of the world’s most complex military machines in the hands of a populist rabble-rouser whose highest military rank was corporal. In a nation as threatened by enemies and as dependent on its military prowess as Israel, that’s immensely risky.
Tensions between the politicians and the security establishment have been building for more than a decade. In 2002, the chief of Mossad urged then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, unsuccessfully, to welcome the Arab Peace Initiative. A year later the four living ex-heads of the Shin Bet security service gathered for a group interview and urged Israeli withdrawal from the territories in order to create a Palestinian state separated from Israel by a border. Since then nearly all the ex-chiefs of the Shin Bet, Mossad and Israel Defense Forces have echoed this call, citing the need for security of a border separating Israel and the Palestinians. The sole exception, ironically, is Yaalon, the only living former service chief who opposes Palestinian statehood.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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