Ya'alon Calls the Sane Right to Arms, Warns Against What Likud Has Become

Outgoing defense minister is taking a time-out from politics to prepare for the anti-Netanyahu operation to come.

Moshe Ya'alon at military headquarters to announce his departure from the government and Knesset, Tel Aviv, May 20, 2016.
Tomer Appelbaum

Outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's resignation speech on Friday was both an indictment and a warning. The accused was Benjamin Netanyahu and the evil spirit that he spreads across the country, an inflammatory spirit of incitement and divisiveness.

The warning was against the continued rule of Netanyahu and the destructive effect he has on Israel's image as a democratic country.

Ya'alon may not have mentioned Netanyahu by name, but you'd have to be blind and deaf not to understand at whom Ya'alon's words were aimed – "Radical and dangerous officials who have taken over the State of Israel and the Likud movement, who shake the structure and threaten to harm its inhabitants."

He wasn't talking about Oren Hazan.

The warning was also a call to all rational elements in the country to rally around the flag, especially voters of Likud and the right who are fed up with brutalization and vandalism; with the slime that national politics has been reduced to under Netanyahu.

Ya'alon isn't giving up and he has no intention of settling in the cattle shed. The opposite is true. He will use the time-out he has imposed on himself to prepare, organize the troops and send out the message.

As far as Ya'alon is concerned, Netanyahu has to go. He was correct when he said that today's Likud wasn't the Likud he joined on the eve of the 2009 election. Back then it was a moderate party of the right – a mainstream party in which prominent people such as Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, Gideon Sa'ar, Reuven Rivlin, Moshe Kahlon and Michael Eitan set the tone.

We all know who has taken their place today.

Ya'alon is also correct when he describes his battle against the radicalism, violence and racism that has swept over Israeli society (as described by Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan in a speech on the eve of Memorial Day.)

He was the only one to fight the attempts to reduce the jurisdiction of the High Court of Justice, but he remained alone in the field. Netanyahu joined the incitement brigade a long time ago.

"It's no longer the movement of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin," was the sad judgment of the kibbutznik from Grofit, son of a Mapai family. The fact that he mentioned the two founders of Revisionism in the same breath as the Likud of 2016 must have them turning in their graves.

Around 10 days ago, Ya’alon met a close friend for breakfast, someone who knows Likud and its leaders very well. The two friends analyzed Ya’alon’s situation in his own party and with Netanyahu based on events in recent weeks.

Those events included the affair of Sgt. Elor Azaria, who is charged with killing a Palestinian assailant who was already wounded on the ground. They included the matter of the Israel Defense Forces’ deputy chief of staff, Yair Golan, who likened trends in Israel today to Germany in the 1930s.

“Netanyahu sees you as a threat,” Ya’alon’s friend said. “Take into account that your time at the [Defense] Ministry is limited.”

“Definitely,” Ya’alon nodded. “All the red lines have been crossed.”

According to the friend, Ya’alon was largely referring to Netanyahu’s outrageous actions during the Azaria affair. The friend said Netanyahu’s supportive phone call to the soldier’s father was in Ya’alon’s eyes “spitting in the army’s face, and in his face too, abandoning him to the fervent right wing.”

It was a “nauseating and cynical political move that violated all proper behavior. When Ya’alon spoke about a weather vane as opposed to a compass, that’s exactly what he meant.”

Ya’alon’s departure from the Defense Ministry and politics should worry any Israeli who cares about the country’s security and democracy. But for the prime minister and his aides, Friday is a day of great joy. Another worry lifted.

Yes, another threat that the prime minister will be “undermined” has been removed from the path of the most senior paranoid man in the country, the man for whom no one else is allowed to rise. And the moment any ascent is noticed, it’s off with his head.

Ya’alon’s departure is exactly what Netanyahu hoped would happen, and what he intended to happen. He had no intention of offering Ya’alon the Foreign Ministry. He assumed, in large part correctly, that the trust between the two was almost gone; their working relationship had run fatally aground. Ya’alon, as an embittered foreign minister with a bellyful of complaints against Netanyahu, would probably cause him great damage in the public’s eyes.

And if Ya’alon had been made foreign minister, that could have made Ya’alon a better candidate for prime minister in the future. Netanyahu would rather appoint his dog Kaiya to the job (he doesn’t have a horse, at least not yet) just not Ya’alon, who might not have not accepted such an offer in any case.

A government with Avigdor Lieberman instead of Ya’alon in the most explosive job in the Middle East is a poorer government more extreme, more violent and less committed to the values of democracy, liberalism, humanism and respect for the Supreme Court.

Ya’alon’s decision wasn’t a simple one. He’s leaving the political arena, and it’s always much easier to quit than to return. But to stay in the cabinet under a prime minster who focuses on surviving, despises everyone around him and acts like a bully wasn’t an option for Ya’alon.

In recent months, it became clear to him that Likud, the movement he joined before the 2009 election, had changed. Proper behavior is scorned, while revering the Supreme Court and enforcing the law, especially in the West Bank, are acts of treason that deserve the death penalty.

During Netanyahu’s first term he was abandoned by Foreign Minister David Levy, Finance Minister Dan Meridor and Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai. They left (Mordechai was fired as he was preparing to resign) for reasons similar to those that made Ya’alon resign.

Levy joined up with Ehud Barak. The other two founded a party whose entire goal was to drive Netanyahu out of power. The collective interest went to work in the 1999 election.

It’s still hard, if not impossible, to judge how much influence Ya’alon’s resignation will have on the next election. It may not have an effect at all. But it’s possible one more drop of fissile material is enough to reach critical mass.

Ya’alon is an asset for any party he might choose to join. We hear a lot of talk about a Moshe Kahlon-Gideon Sa’ar alliance that could generate a political revolution, steal Knesset seats from Likud and set off Netanyahu’s downfall. Kahlon and Sa’ar would agree that to significantly improve their chances, they need a security guy like Ya’alon.

In Israel, security is still the central issue over which elections are decided, and no change is expected anytime soon. The name of former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has long been brought up as a possibility. Now Ya’alon’s name is also on the table. On Friday he described his departure from political life as “a time-out.” In other words, he’s certainly thinking about it.

Netanyahu is sometimes known as “the magician.” Well, in his latest move, he has managed to turn Ya’alon an admired defense minister, someone almost completely within the national consensus into a determined enemy who will work to overthrow him.

And who did he choose to replace Ya’alon? Lieberman, who hates Netanyahu, who has never taken back a single expletive he has called him over the past year, and who won’t hesitate to stab him in the back the first time he finds it appropriate. That’s some magic trick.