Ya'alon Tells Haaretz Readers: A Big and Strong Likud-Beiteinu Will Lead Israel Safely

Likud's Strategic Affairs Minister Ya'alon, Netanyahu's likely appointment as the next defense minister, answers readers' questions about Iran, draft-dodging and the cost of living.

Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon has been a senior minister in Netanyahu's outgoing government. He answers questions about what lies ahead, and how Netanyahu's next government will deal with the numerous challenges Israel is likely to face if Likud-Beiteinu wins the elections.

The question / answer period is now over.

Likud has decided to run together with Yisrael Beiteinu on a joint ticket. Do you approve of this decision?

After four years of a coalition in which the biggest party had just 27 seats, the Prime Minister has decided to strive to strengthen the ruling party, so that he would be able to better implement his executive powers. Others advocate the need for a strong government, but set up small parties and refuse to unite. We have decided to unite. It is paramount for Likud-Beiteinu be be big and strong, so that it will be able to lead the country safely and with determination after the elections. The government must rely on a strong base.

Some members of Yisrael Beiteinu castigate the Supreme Court and accuse it of a "leftist" bent. Do you share that view?

I think the Supreme Court should be treated with respect. It is highly esteemed in Israel and around the world. Some have claimed that the judges don't reflect a wide enough array of opinions, while others have argued that it has taken an exaggerated interventionist approach - a criticism that I share, to an extent. I hope the court will adopt a more conservative, less active approach, and that there would be more heterogeneity among the judges.

As to its decision to overrule the Central Election Committee's banning of Balad MK Hanin Zuabi - which was unanimous - I respect it. The judges' professional perspective should be taken into account. I am not a fan of Zuabi's worldview, but her right to voice it should be safeguarded. Since she didn't break the law in the Gaza flotilla affair, her views must be part of the public debate even if we find them deplorable, but we'd rather deal with them in the open than push her to the margins.

Over the past few weeks, Likud ministers have criticized the party's election campaign, devised by Arthur Finkelstein, as old-fashioned and not giving enough weight to Likud's security and diplomatic policies. Recent polls suggest that Likud-Beiteinu is on the decline. Are you happy with the way the campaign is handled? Does it achieve the goals set out for it? Why is Likud-Beiteinu getting weaker by the week?

One of the side-effects of Netanyahu's strength is that everybody assumes he'll be the next prime minister, and smaller parties say there's no use voting for Likud for that reason. Doing that would be a grave mistake. I'm against sectarian parties, and if people want Netanyahu to lead in the right direction, they should give their vote to the party of government.

Why does Israel need four ministers for defense – a defense minister, a home front defense minister, a strategic affairs minister and an intelligence minister (on top of the Prime Minister, who's in charge of some security services, and the public security minister). It not only burdens the state budget, it also encumbers the implementation of the government's security policies. If Likud-Beiteinu forms the next government, will it see that the security sector is more efficiently managed? (Tal)

My ministry has 20 staff members, most of them veterans of the security establishment. My job is to present the prime minister and the nine-member inner cabinet with alternative policy decisions. The Defense Ministry, the Mossad, the Atomic Energy Commission, as well as the Foreign Ministry, all deal with the Iran issue, someone should do extensive research before a decision is made.

Back when I was head of the Military Intelligence I thought such field work was paramount. Sadly, for different reasons, the National Security Council was snubbed by consecutive prime ministers. We inherited a toothless NSC, incapable of conducting comprehensive field work, and the PM tasked me with filling that void. We write papers that would enable decision-makers to make informed decisions. The defense minister, however, is in charge of the army and that's the way it should remain. The need for a home front security minister came up with the rise of the threat to the home front. Operation Pillar of Defense was an ideal example of coordination between the different ministries, and between the government and the military. The application of military force serves diplomatic ends, and that's what happened when rocket fire from Gaza was curtailed and Egypt promised to tackle weapon smuggling.

Did the Prime Minister promise you the defense portfolio in the next government? What do you make of Ehud Barak's term in office? (Avi)

It's useless to hand out the prize money before it's been won. If we win the elections the question will inevitably arise, given my 37 years of service. The PM has decided not to consider cabinet appointments before the elections, and we shall return to the issue thereafter. The fact that my name is mentioned is only natural, I think. My extensive experience was one of the reasons that drew me into politics in the first place.

About Ehud Barak, he and I saw eye to eye on some issues and didn't on others. Our differences were occasionally made public. Now that Barak decided to leave politics, it's time to thank him for his service as defense minister, prime minister and naturally IDF officer.

Do you think it's appropriate that no. 2 on the Likud-Beiteinu ticket, Avigdor Lieberman, is facing criminal charges?

As Lieberman's case is yet to be resolved, I'm prevented from commenting on it. We'll just have to wait and see if he's acquitted or convicted.

Will you pursue military service for ultra-Orthodox men no matter what, or will you insist on reaching an agreement with Haredi representatives? (Ophir and Ya'akov)

The government will have to draw up an alternative to the now-defunct Tal Law, and enact provisions for a military service for ultra-Orthodox and Arab men. I assume they will be based on the proposal that I drafted. However, you can't change a situation of 64 years overnight. We're in the process of enlarging the number of people sharing the burden. In 2011, 2400 ultra-Orthodox men served in the army, as opposed to 300 in 2007. There's a similar rise among Arabs. We're on the right track. We must ensure that we facilitate their integration in the army. Ultra-Orthodox youth are ready to serve in an environment that suits their lifestyle, and giving them the opportunity to do so would be the right thing to do. Also, there are academic courses for young ultra-Orthodox - it's unprecedented. But these changes don't occur overnight. At the end of the day, I envisage a small number of remarkable yeshiva students who will continue to be exempted from service, the same way as professional athletes are. One can see more and more IDF uniforms in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, it's becoming more acceptable. Also, they realize that work can contribute to their quality of life.

What is your party's stance on civil partnerships - more specifically, same-sex marriages - and won't Lieberman's clear stance in favor clash with that of your religious coalition partners, who see it as an abomination? (Yoav)

I'm in favor of the individual's right to choose, and I think that should be the government's position too. In the IDF, this freedom exists, though unofficially. There was a famous case of a colonel who was killed, and his male partner was entitled to family benefits. This is the way it should be. These issues should not be part of negotiations between parties, there must be a way to ensure that.

Ministers Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan and Benny Begin were pushed out of the Likud list. They are known for their uncompromising support for the rule of law, and succeeded in foiling some motions that would undermine it. Is their absence from the next Knesset something to worry about.

I was sorry to see Meridor and Begin, fellow members of the nine-member inner cabinet, as well as the devoted lawmaker Eitan, failing to win a spot on the Likud list. But these are the ways of democracy - the list reflects the decision of mroe than 120,000 party members. It's probably a generational change, and I'm convinced there will be Likud MKs who will be equally committed to the rule of law in the next Knesset.