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Ya’alon vs. Bibi
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Ya’alon vs. Bibi

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

The jockeying about within the Israeli cabinet over the past week has sent shudders through many circles at the prospect of the hard line leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu , Avigdor Lieberman, returning to the Government this time with the Defense Ministry under his jurisdiction. This is in contrast to the hopes that some had about Bibi’s interest to build a national unity Government by bringing Herzog and the Zionist Union into the Government. This new turn of political events may present a harbinger of a rather interesting scenario looking ahead now with the departure from the Defense Ministry, the Government, and the Knesset of Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon.

Ya’alon’s departure in protest was due not only to the prospects of Lieberman joining the unity government, but also in response to a number of actions taken by Netanyahu against him, his leadership, and a number of IDF senior staff people over the past several weeks and months; all of which Ya’alon had taken issue with. What is most curious about Ya’alon’s exit was that he made it very clear that he was leaving the Knesset—but only for now.

His departure is reminiscent of the departure of other past high-level military officers and Defense Ministers from political life only to return in a cloud or triumph shortly thereafter. It can be seen in the career of Ariel Sharon; with similarities to the departure and re-entry into politics of Ehud Barak; and even in the career of Yitzchak Rabin.  All three men had distinguished, varied, yet different, military careers. All three flited in and out of politics after their departure from the military. Both Sharon and Barak were especially highly decorated officers and leaders in the IDF. Rabin had the oldest record in the military as well as the longest tenure in politics.

The most important factor which makes one contemplate a possible curious return for Ya’alon is that both Sharon and Barak, who had been extremely hardline forces within the military, at the end of their political career moved dramatically outside the predictable model. They also came out of very different political camps.

Yitzchak Rabin, unlike Barak and Sharon, spent much more time engaged in political life  after leaving the military, following his successful leadership of the IDF during the Six Day War. Like Barak, Rabin came from the left-wing Labor Party side of Israeli politics. All three men, however, had served and seen military life close-up for many years. They all were much more forthcoming at the end of their political careers in seeking to bring the Jewish state into a position to try to make peace with its neighbors; Rabin with the Oslo accords, Barak with the 2000 Camp David meetings with Clinton and Arafat; and Sharon with the Gaza withdrawal. It remains to be seen whether Ya’alon will follow this type of model when he indeed returns to politics, or will he opt to follow the right wing alliances which Sharon rejected when he returned to power in 2001? Will Ya’alon seek to confront Bibi eventually within the right or break away from this base?

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