Relax, Israel's Defense Minister Isn’t Calling the Shots and Lieberman Won't Bomb Egypt

The defense minister is not omnipotent. In reality, he decides much less than most people think he does.

Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus
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Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus

The one making the decisions around here isn’t the defense minister, but the prime minister and his testicles – even on security issues. When Moshe Arens sat in the defense minister’s office and planned to bomb Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir picked up the phone and gave him an unpleasant message: “I’m the one who decides, not you.”

Shamir had commanded Lehi, a prestate militia; Arens had been a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. The brilliant operation was aborted.

Arens, who speaks fluent American English, is the one who put Benjamin Netanyahu on the road to becoming our leader, back when “Bibi” was on the road to becoming a naturalized American citizen instead. Since then, Netanyahu has been stuck in us like a nail without a head.

During his early days in politics, Avigdor Lieberman was Netanyahu’s right hand and also his left one – the man who stood at attention when the leader entered the room. They drank together and smoked Cuban cigars. This week, they repeated that exercise in honor of days gone by and the future that awaits them.

Television pundits termed this a “survival plan.” But where’s the pressure? Why the panic? This is a democracy, in all its beauty and ugliness. And as a rule, important (and unimportant) decisions aren’t made by one man.

Calm down, we won’t bomb Egypt’s Aswan Dam just because Lieberman promised to do so at a time when he was criticizing Netanyahu. The defense minister is not omnipotent. In reality, he decides much less than most people think he does.

Likud MK and former minister Benny Begin thinks Lieberman’s appointment is insane. But why? It’s reasonable to assume that Lieberman won’t embroil us in a bloody war like the first Lebanon war of 1982, which Begin’s father leapt into. Nor are Lieberman’s boots any higher than those of the former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and current defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, who once said high boots are necessary to survive the vipers at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv. Ya’alon is now discovering that the vipers in Jerusalem are even more venomous.

True, Lieberman doesn’t really understand military issues. But if he could serve as foreign minister, why can’t he be defense minister? Is he less suitable than Isaac Herzog, our sweet little opposition leader who’s being eaten for breakfast by his party colleague, Shelly Yacimovich?

Therefore, prepare for the new chorus about Ya’alon, who annoyed Netanyahu, who flirted with Lieberman, who was frightened by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. How did a former finance minister once put it when he was all at sea? Lunatics, get down from the roof.

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