Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is planning to discreetly demote his deputy, Moshe Yaalon, for two recent “right-wing” appearances.
Mr Yaalon, a former IDF Chief of Staff, was fired by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in early 2005 for opposing the disengagement from Gaza. He joined the Likud late last year and was seen as one of the main figures in the effort to rehabilitate the party’s image in the eyes of Israeli voters. He was appointed minister for strategic affairs and deputy premier.
But in recent weeks, Mr Yaalon has been veering openly towards the right wing of the government, making statements that are contradictory to Mr Netanyahu’s current diplomatic policy.
A week and a half ago, he joined a number of other ministers in a tour of the ruins of Homesh settlement in Northern Samaria, which was also evacuated during disengagement, and said that “the government should consider returning to Homesh”.
The timing was particularly awkward, as the government is about to commit to a “settlement freeze” demanded by the Americans.
Mr Yaalon also said during the visit that “we should be telling the Supreme Court that we plan to legitimise” the hilltop settlements that the government has promised to remove. Even more damaging were the statements made by Mr Yaalon at a closed meeting with activists of the “Jewish Leadership” faction on the right of the Likud, which were leaked to the press.
“When I was chief of staff,” he reportedly said, “I said a number of times privately that when politicians bring the dove of peace, the army has to clean up afterwards.”
Mr Yaalon also called anti-settlement movement Peace Now a “virus” and asked “why are we afraid of the Americans?”
These statements were serious enough for Mr Netanyahu to summon his deputy for a ticking-off during his own family holiday. Despite official announcements that the affair was over and Mr Yaalon saying that his “words were taken out of context”, sources close to the PM made it clear that the affair had only just begun.
For a start, this week, when Mr Netanyahu was visiting Britain and Germany, official power was in the hands of his other deputy, Silvan Shalom. While Mr Shalom was a constant rival to the PM in previous Likud primaries, he is still seen as a “more responsible” set of hands than his colleague.
Another consequence, according to a prime ministerial aide, will be less meetings of the six-minister mini-cabinet, of which Mr Yaalon is a member, and more exclusive discussions in which Mr Yaalon will not be included.
“It’s not that Yaalon didn’t say what a lot of people in the party are thinking,” says a Likud MK, “but that he did so openly and even worse, he chose to do so at a Jewish Leadership event, with the very people that Bibi has been trying to kick out of the Likud because of the harm they cause to the party’s image.
“Yaalon may have been acting from ideological motives but there is also the suspicion that he is positioning himself to lead a right-wing coup within the party.”