Dangerous Musical Chairs

Dangerous Musical Chairs

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The appointment of Avigdor Lieberman to be the new Minister of Defense in the Netanyahu Government has three serious implications: the esprit de corps of the military; the image abroad of Israeli military competence; and the extent to which Israeli political exigencies now even dominate Netanyahu’s management of the IDF. In all three cases, Netanyahu has demonstrated through this decision a willingness to dismiss security considerations for his own political well-being and future.

There is a sense that Netanyahu, who possesses a deep appreciation for the integrity and uniqueness of the IDF as a fighting force, has become insensitive to the consequences of his actions and the effect that the decision has on the officer corps as well as the rank and file. Coming himself out of the most elite of all the Israeli military units, Sayeret Matkal, one had a right to expect a far more sensitive attitude on the part of the Prime Minister to the appointment of a rank amateur to the governance of the nation’s defense. Lieberman, who lacks any high level experience in military affairs, now becomes the critical force in any and all military decisions. This comes at a time that the current cohort of senior military leaders are recognized as one of the finest groups of young leadership that the IDF has ever had. The thought of his sitting around a table with the leading military leaders is absolutely scary. (Other former Defense Ministers who lacked senior military experience, recognized their inadequacies for this position. For his part, Lieberman has never shown a reticence ever to demonstrate any inadequacies on any issue, regardless of the modesty of his knowledge.)

On the international stage, the appointment of Lieberman disregards the fact that when Lieberman held the position of Foreign Minister, Netanyahu himself would not permit Lieberman to have any engagement with the U.S. on foreign affairs matters. (In all likelihood, for example, Netanyahu will continue to be the primary force in the U.S.-Israel negotiations on the ten year Memorandum of Understanding—MOU.)  For the Pentagon and other Western military establishments to contemplate dealing with Lieberman was most optimistically expressed by the White House and the State Department. It is likely that they only hope that Israel’s security needs will transcend Lieberman’s politics as they historically have done so on defense considerations over the years.

Finally, for Netanyahu the addition of Lieberman’s five seat Yisrael Beitenu party to his Government, only strengthens his right-wing coalition; giving Bibi further political protection.  It does not encourage Netanyahu to move any closer to reopening of negotiations with the Palestinians, to freeze settlement construction, or to a demonstrative commitment to a two-state solution. The Israel public—much of which has moved further to the right especially since the escalation of the isolated Arab attacks begun last fall—will probably respond favorably to Lieberman’s re-entry, reaffirming the Government’s increasingly right wing direction.

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