Naftali Bennett to return to Israel’s cabinet as defence minister

His New Right party will merge with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud


Naftali Bennett has been appointed Israel’s defence minister, a job he has coveted for years, and agreed to merge his party’s list with Likud as part of a deal with Benjamin Netanyahu.

The appointment, which places one of the Israeli prime minister’s political rivals in one of the cabinet’s most important posts, was confirmed late on Friday afternoon.

Mr Bennett was education minister in the Netanyahu government before the April 2019 election.

The defence ministry had been filled by Mr Netanyahu himself since he fired Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, another rival, in November 2018.

Under Friday’s agreement, Likud is to merge with the New Right, the party launched less than a year ago by Mr Bennett and Ayelet Shaked.

New Right’s 3 MKs will join Likud, raising its seat tally to 35 and making it the largest party in the Knesset.

According to Haaretz, a Likud statement said: “Bennett agreed that in case a new government is set up, such as a broad unity government or a narrow government, a different person will be appointed for the role of defence minister.

“The two also agreed that the Likud and New Right will immediately form a joint faction in the 22nd Knesset and are committed to operating together as a joint faction throughout the tenure of this current Knesset.”

It comes hours after Blue & White leader Benny Gantz, who is currently trying to form a coalition government, said he did not believe Likud wanted to form a national unity government.

It is not clear if Ms Shaked, a former justice minister, will be offered a role.

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