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With a New Coalition, What Will Israel's Security Cabinet Look Like?

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Once the composition of Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition is finally made clear, we will also find out who will belong to the two most important forums in the government: the cabinet and the smaller Septet (or Octet or Nonet, depending, of course, on the number of members).

More than any other group of politicians, it is these forums that will determine the next government's most important decisions in the two most significant areas of diplomacy and national security facing Israel today.

The outgoing cabinet included the six senior ministers required by law (the prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister, justice minister, finance minister and public security minister), as well as another nine ministers who were full cabinet members and three who attended meetings only as observers, in accordance with a government resolution stating that the number of cabinet members cannot exceed half the number of coalition members.

However, due to the large size of the cabinet, the most significant strategic discussions moved to the Septet (also known as the Forum of Seven), which expanded over the Knesset term to include nine members.

Topics such as Israel's policy for addressing the Iranian nuclear threat were discussed in that forum, with very few leaks to the media. However, a legal opinion formulated during the outgoing government's term stated that a cabinet resolution regarding military action (such as an aerial attack on Iran) would need to be approved by the entire cabinet and not the more restricted forum, whose legal status is unclear.

It appears that Netanyahu's choice to form a government with Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid as a senior partner will likely influence Israel's Iran policy, despite the lip service the prime minister continues to pay to the Iran issue in almost every public appearance. Lapid was elected to the Knesset on a mandate to lighten the burden faced by Israel's middle class, not to push the Middle East into a regional war. It doesn't appear very likely that Lapid will vote in favor of a deliberate attack against Iran in a situation where not all other options have been exhausted.

The presumed incoming defense minister, Moshe Ya'alon, is also considered relatively moderate on the Iran issue, as is incoming justice minister, Tzipi Livni. Another question is what will be the new government's stance toward the peace process with the Palestinians. Ya'alon and presumed incoming minister Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett are considered hawks on the issue. However, it appears that if they believe the government will solely pursue negotiations without any act of practical significance, they won't oppose a resumption of talks.

In the meantime, the IDF is already preparing to receive a new defense minister. Ya'alon's learning curve on the job won't be a steep one; he has already served as an IDF chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, head of Army Intelligence and GOC of Central Command and has complete professional fluency. Ya'alon's adjustment process won't be anything like the one experience by former Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who was lambasted over his conduct during the Second Lebanon War. Ya'alon has also been described as having a good relationship with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who served as GOC Northern Command when Ya'alon was chief of staff.

Ya'alon will need to decide in the coming days how to staff his office. He has three close advisors, director general of the Ministry for Strategic Affairs Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, media advisor Ofer Harel and political advisor Itzik Ashkenazi.

Kuperwasser is likely to serve as bureau chief for Ya'alon or as the head of his political department if Gilad leaves. One of the names mentioned as a candidate for director general of the ministry is former deputy IDF chief of staff Maj. Gen. (res.) Dan Harel.

The possible troika of Ya'alon-Kuperwasser-Harel would bring a lot of experience, knowledge and integrity to the ministry. However, the minister-to-be will need to take into account, at least with respect to filling the role of bureau chief, that there will also be a need for someone who knows how to close deals, who has a small profile and is even a bit of a horse thief.

Thus, as much as Ya'alon may be known for hating the snakes in the Defense Ministry, he may very well need one of his own.

Presumed incoming defense minister, Moshe Ya'alon, left with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Knesset last year. Credit: Michal Fattal
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, center left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the swearing-in ceremony of the 19th Knesset in Jerusalem, Feb. 5, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman

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