All three top ministers in the Israeli cabinet below the Prime Minister — defence, finance and foreign affairs — are about to change. What does this mean for Israeli policy in the coming years?
Let’s start with the new finance minister, almost certain to be Yair Lapid. A 10-year-old video from Mr Lapid’s old chat show is doing the rounds right now and it shows host Mr Lapid saying to then Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I don’t understand anything about economics.” Issues of knowledge aside, it is well-known that Mr Lapid has much in common with Prime Minister Netanyahu on economic issues: he is a capitalist who will continue Mr Netanyahu’s strategy of cutting taxes in order to encourage growth.
The only question is how that will work over the next few months: the government has to implement major spending cuts to shrink the deficit.
It would be safe to predict that Mr Lapid will let the professional economists in his ministry to do most of the work and propose the cuts, at least in this budget.
The next new senior position will be filled by Moshe Yaalon, who is probably going to be the new defence minister, replacing Ehud Barak, who is leaving politics. Mr Yaalon, who currently serves as Strategic Affairs Minister, is a former IDF Chief of Staff. The main question is whether he agrees with Mr Netanyahu on the necessity of a military attack on Iran, should sanctions and diplomacy fail to block its nuclear programme.
Until a few months ago, it was thought that Mr Yaalon belonged to the more cautious camp, but his appointment could signal a move on his part towards his boss’s positions.
Mr Yaalon will also be forced to swallow cutbacks in the military and will have a serious political dilemma when it comes to enforcing the rule of law in the settlements, the responsibility of the defence minister.
The third senior post is to remain empty for now. Avigdor Lieberman will not be returning to the Foreign Ministry as long as his case is ongoing and, even then, only if he is not found guilty of moral turpitude. But such is his political clout that the ministry is waiting for him. Mr Netanyahu will be acting foreign minister in the interim, and that means we will see more of Shimon Peres undertaking important diplomatic missions.