Bennett: I Asked to Be Defense Minister, Israel's Deterrence Is Eroding

Education minister, who heads Habayit Hayehudi party, says country has made the mistake of thinking there is no solution to terrorism

Israeli Education minister Naftali Bennett speaking in Ramat Gan, on Thursday, November 15, 2018
Meged Gozani

Education Minister Naftali Bennett  on Thursday confirmed that he requested the defense mnister position from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the wake of Avigdor Lieberman's resignation from the post. Bennett said thatt "Israel's deterrence is eroding," claiming the only reason he applied for the post is for Israel to "go back to winning" and that "for me, security is a calling, not just a job."

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation on Wednesday and called for elections to be held as soon as possible, saying he hopes a date will be set by Sunday. Lieberman said all of the members of his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, will quit the coalition. The move came in the wake of a flare-up between Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza after which the cabinet voted for a cease-fire agreement, which Lieberman found unacceptable.

Yisrael Beiteinu's departure means Netanyahu still holds a slender Knesset majority (61-59) seats to maintain the coalition. Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi, another key coalition partner in Netanyahu's government, said that unless the defense portfolio goes to Bennett, the party will also quit the coalition.

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Speaking on Thursday, Bennett did not spare Lieberman from criticism. "The job of a defense minister is not to be led but to lead, not to complain about constraints but to come up with solutions," said Bennett in an apparent reference to Lieberman, who had complained in his resignation speech that his role had been encroached upon. Bennett said Israel is currently in a dangerous, complex position. "The most dangerous thing for Israel that we began to think there is no solution to terror, to terrorists, to rockets, that you cannot win. But there are things you can do. When Israel will wa win, we will win," he said.

On Wednesday, MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) warned Netanyahu that it would force early elections if Bennett, was not appointed defense minister. Initially, Netanyahu signaled he intended to keep take up the defense portfolio himself in the wake of Lieberman resignation.

Head of Kulanu Party and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told Netanyahu that the right thing for the citizens and the economy of Israel is to call elections as soon as possible. Interior Minister Arye Dery also called for elections "as soon as possible, for the sake of the country."

Earlier on Thursday, Lieberman submitted his resignation letter to Netanyahu, although he said he hoped to return to the government as a member of the Knesset. Meanwhile, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, of the Habayit Hayehudi party, reiterated in her interview on Army Radio Thursday that if Netanyahu does not appoint the party's chairman Naftali Bennett as defense minister, the party will leave the coalition. Netanyahu and Bennet are slated to meet on Friday morning.