Netanyahu and Ya'alon 'Clear the Air' in Meeting Prompted by Speech

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 2015
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in a cabinet meeting, November 2015. Ya'alon's persistence wins out over the PM's procrastination. Credit: Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no intention of relieving Moshe Ya'alon of his position as defense minister, despite growing tensions between the two over comments made by an IDF general that likened trends in Israel to those taking place in Europe before World War II.

Speaking Sunday to a group of army officers, Ya'alon told them they should view themselves not just as military leaders, but also as educators, and urged them to speak their minds even if meant contradicting the government's official position.

Netanyahu's office quickly responded, summoning Ya'alon for a meeting for "clarifications" over the speech, with a source saying Netanyahu wanted to understand why Ya'alon felt the need to reopen the issue.

At the end of the meeting, which took place Monday morning and lasted over 50 minutes, the two issued a joint statement saying that "Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya'alon met this morning and cleared the air."

"There is no debate on whether the military is subordinate to political leadership and army officers are allowed to freely express their views in the relevant forums."

Deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, during a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, May 5, 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

It seems Netanyahu did not intend to escalate the political crisis of faith plaguing their relationship.

Beforehand, a source close to Netanyahu told Haaretz that the meeting was "not a reprimanding" of Ya'alon. "The prime minister wants to know why Ya'alon was pressed to reopen the issue now," they said.

A source close to Ya'alon confirmed the meeting was to take place, but said "they don't know why."

Ya'alon's speech came after IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan likened recent developments in Israeli society to processes that unfolded in Europe before the Holocaust, setting off a political storm that saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blast the statement as "outrageous."

Speaking Sunday evening during an Independence Day event, Ya'alon urged army officers to view themselves not just as military leaders, but also as educators. He urged those present to speak their minds "even if [what you have to say] isn't part of the mainstream, even if it differs from the positions and ideas voiced by senior commanders or the political leadership."

A response by the Prime Minister's Office was published even before Ya'alon had even completed his speech, saying: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives his full support to the IDF, its commanders and its soldiers. The prime minister is adamant in his opinion that the comparison to Nazi Germany was inappropriate, both in content and timing and caused [Israel] international damage," the statement said, adding that "army commanders voice their options freely in the reverent forums on issues for which they are responsible. The IDF is the people's army and it needs to be kept clean from political divisions."

Former defense minister Amir Peretz, now an opposition lawmaker with the Zionist Union, came to Ya'alon's defense against what he termed the Netanyahu-led radical right.

"Netanyahu's pretending that IDF officers have no problem voicing their opinions is hypocrisy and turning a blind eye to the public slander he himself is orchestrating against Ya'alon [and Golan]. The defense minister should examine whether he still has a place in the radical right Netanyahu leads," Peretz said.

Referring to the case of an Israeli soldier facing manslaughter charges for shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant to death in Hebron last month, Ya'alon said that in recent months "we have found ourselves struggling to address a new radical minority, active mostly on social media. Part of its ideals has crept and trickled into the mainstream of our society and is now trying to influence the IDF and its values and characters."

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