Lieberman's entry is a new dawn - of uncertainty

May 26, 2016 11:17

The military guard of honour that received Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday at the Defence Ministry's headquarters in Tel Aviv took place according to protocol.

However, it lacked the warmth with which the same soldiers and officers had bid farewell to the departing minister, Moshe Yaalon.

Of course, the men and women in uniform will not speak out in public against their new political master, but there is deep disquiet at all levels of the IDF.

Mr Yaalon was a tough boss, but he was seen as "one of us", a protector of the army and its traditions against the politicians. Mr Lieberman is regarded with suspicion. He is, at best, an unknown quantity; at worst, the harbinger of a new order.

For all his past threats to bomb Egypt's Aswan Dam and kill Hamas leaders within 48 hours, Mr Lieberman will have little effect on defence policy - at least at first.

He will be subject to the Prime Minister's close supervision and is aware of the tension surrounding his appointment.

The Defence Ministry is like no other government department - the minister has to chair countless meetings and be involved in complex procedures. It will be very different to his time as foreign minister, when Mr Lieberman left most of the daily running to the civil servants. And, of course, he lacks experience with the system and will have to spend months learning.

But one aspect of the job he needs little time to learn is maintaining relations with countries with which Israel has a mainly military relationship. The most crucial of these ties right now is with Egypt, and while there were reports of dismay in Cairo at Mr Lieberman's appointment, he has dealt with the Egyptians before and both sides respect power. He will not be an obstacle to a new diplomatic initiative, if one does take place, at least not in its initial stages.

More questionable is how he will handle the security relationship with the Palestinian Authority. While security officials have acknowledged in recent weeks that the PA's security apparatus prevents around 40 percent of terror attacks planned against Israel, Mr Lieberman is on record numerous times calling for its dismantlement.

He does reportedly have ties with Mohammed Dahlan, the former Palestinian security chief in Gaza and one of the main rivals within Fatah to President Mahmoud Abbas. Mr Dahlan is close to the Egyptian regime.

Mr Lieberman's appointment, which followed the dispute between his predecessor and the Prime Minister over the IDF's morality in fighting Palestinian violence, is a powerful message to the officer corps to lower its profile. But, beyond that, the new minister's past record as foreign minister indicates that, in office, he is more moderate than his firebrand image.

Mr Lieberman craves recognition as a legitimate politician and potential prime minister. To seal the deal with Likud, he was willing to relinquish most of his political demands, including a pledge of allegiance by Arab citizens and civil marriage.

Yisrael Beiteinu's coalition deal included a change in the national pension scheme, which will favour mainly elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Mr Lieberman's core constituency. His main plan is to use his new position as the second most powerful man in Israel to broaden his appeal beyond that group. He hinted at a change of tack this week when he said at the meeting to sign the coalition deal: "I've undergone surgery to lengthen my short fuse."

May 26, 2016 11:17

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