Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon intends to run for prime minister, the recently-ousted defense minister told the Herzliya Conference on Thursday.
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"I intend to run for the leadership in Israel in the next elections," he said during his speech. Ya'alon lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming he is trying to scare Israeli citizens about security threats in order to distract them from other problems in Israel.
"The Iranian nuclear program, which was put on ice following the signed agreement, does not constitute an imminent existential threat to Israel, which is limited during the period of the agreement, and we have to prepare for future events," said Ya'alon.
"At this time and in the foreseeable future, there is not existential threat to Israel. It is the strongest state in the region and there is an enormous gap with every country and organization stationed around it. Therefore, it is appropriate for the leadership in Israel to cease scaring the citizens and to stop telling them that we are on the verge of a second Holocaust."
Ya'alon remarked that Israel's leadership is trying "cynically" to divert citizens' attention. "It is a mistaken approach to think that if we fill citizens with fear it will make them forget the corruption, the social gaps, the high cost of living and other challenges at the doorstep of the leadership," he said. "This doesn't mean we have to be conservative. The security challenges are serious and significant."
Ya'alon said that despite his resignation from the government and the Knesset, he does not intend to leave political life. "We have to present an alternative to the current leadership – because we have no other country."
Ya'alon was pushed out of his job a few weeks ago by Netanyahu as part of the agreement to bring in Yisrael Beiteinu to the governing coalition and to appoint Avigdor Lieberman in his stead. Ya'alon said that the gaps in attitudes between him and Netanyahu sharpened regarding many issues in the months preceding his resignation.
"If there is something that makes me afraid for Israel's future it is neither the weapons trucks from Syria to Lebanon nor Iran's attempts to wield terror against us. We can deal with this with strength and sophistication," said Ya'alon. "If there is something that deprives me of sleep it is the fissures in Israeli society – the erosion of basic values – the attempt to hurt the Israel Defense Forces in a way that endangers its might. Our leadership has become reactive and tempestuous rather than leading here an exemplary society."
The former defense minister said that since resigning he has received thousands of letters from Israeli citizens, including Likud members, asking him to remain in public life. "There is an aspiration that crosses party lines of the vast and sane majority of the country to see a stately leadership that will lead the country according to a compass or conscience and not according to polls or reactions on social networks," said Ya'alon. "A leadership that does not hide behind gatekeepers whose sole job is to guard the remainders of government, thereby weakening the balances and critical breaks to our internal power."
Ya'alon sharply attacked Netanyahu's behavior and blamed him for incitement, factionalism and creating a divide in the nation. "The leadership of Israel 2016 is busy with inflaming passions and causing fear between Jews and Arabs, between right and left and between different ethnic groups in order to survive in power and earn another month or year. The job of leadership is to bring together the people and not to tear it apart, incite and urge attacks."
He also bitterly criticized Netanyahu for the growth in attacks against the Supreme Court and the rule of law. "We need a national leadership that does not allow raising a hand against a Supreme Court justice," said Ya'alon. "We can argue about judicial activism but at the same time to fight every attempt to harm the rule of law." Ya'alon said that Israel needs a leadership "that is not busy inciting against judges," hinting at attacks by Yossi Cohen, the Netanyahu family lawyer, against a judge that ruled on a case involving the family.
The former defense minister also blamed Netanyahu for the attempt "to enslave the media to survive." He added, "The media is Israel must be free and not threatened, and must allow everyone with an opinion from right to left to speak his mind without fear." Ya'alon also criticized the different incidents connected to the names of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. "We need a leadership that will constitute a prime example of in its manners and behavior," he noted.
Ya'alon added: "We must now allow a racist and inciting discourse of a minority that has infiltrated the mainstream and to the leadership to bring us down into the depth." According to him, Israel is at a historic crossroad. "Everyone needs to ask himself which state he wants to live in and to raise his children and grandchildren," he said. "Politics is not a rose garden, but it seems that recently records have been broken for ugliness, cynicism and opportunism."
In a statement following Ya'alon's remarks, the Likud said: "It's amusing to see how fast Ya'alon had changed his tune. It was only months ago that he said that 'Iran was an existential threat to Israel.' Today, at the Herzliya Conference, he said that there is no existential threat facing Israel."
Netanyahu commented: "Security is a serious matter. It is impossible to say at the Munich Conference four months ago that Iran is an existential threat to Israel and today at the Herzliya Conference to say that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel. It is impossible to express full faith in the leadership when you are inside and to say the total opposite when you are outside, and so there is no need to attribute importance to all this political goading.
"Real leadership doesn't deny threats. It sees them properly, and it prepares to deal with them, and that is exactly what we will continue to do with seriousness, responsibility and consideration for the sake of Israel's security."