Former Military Chief Appointed as Israeli Defense Minister
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu appointed Moshe Ya’alon on Sunday as Israel’s new defense minister. Ya’alon has long opposed the freezing of settlement building, and has said in the past that Israel must focus on defense before diplomacy in the conflict.
Ya’alon headed the Israeli army during the 2nd intifada, or Palestinian uprising. He also took a controversial stance in opposing the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from settlements within the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu chose Ya’alon because the position requires someone with military experience. “At such a decisive time for the security of the State of Israel, when the region all around us is stormy, it is important to have a man who is rich in experience, like Moshe Yaalon, in this post,” Netanyahu said this week.
The anti-settlement Israeli organization Peace Now — which Ya’alon once called a “virus” — expressed concern about the appointment.
“The role of the minister of defense is crucial for settlement issues because every step must be approved by the minister and often can be done without the knowledge of other people in government,” said Peace Now representative Hagit Oran.
For the past four years, Ya’alon has held positions as vice premier and strategic affairs minister in Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet, playing a significant role in monitoring Iran’s nuclear program. Despite his hardline views on Israeli settlements, Ya’alon is known for his skepticism of a possible Israeli attack on Iran. Though he has supported it publicly, he has been said to be in favor of diplomacy first in dealings with Iran, a position that will most likely garner support from President Obama. However, Washington has long opposed the Israeli settlement movement, illegal under international law.
A fervent Zionist, Ya’alon has said that Jews should be able to live in any part of the Occupied Territories as well as Israel. “I, for one, am not afraid of the Americans. There are issues on which one should say ‘that’s enough’,” he said, referring to the United States’ opposition to settlement development.
Israel’s new government will be sworn in this week, and Ya’alon will replace retiring Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
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