Israel Trading Bogie for a Bogeyman? Not So Fast
By Avi Issacharoff
Times of Israel
May 19, 2016
The news that Avigdor Liberman would replace Moshe
“Bogie” Ya’alon as the new defense minister was met in Ramallah with
unbelieving dismay and stupefaction.
Ya’alon, who had been a partner to Arab states and the
Palestinian Authority on untold operations and moves, would be giving up his
seat and going home in favor of a man known mostly for brow-beating Arabs.
But while his loss may be deeply felt, pragmatism may end
up saving the day.
Ya’alon is seen by Arab states as a true strategic
partner for keeping the peace in the region.
He’s particularly popular with Egyptian President
Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, who has met with him at least once and spoken with him on
the phone multiple times. Ya’alon also secretly visited Amman, far from the
spotlights and the cameras.
Quietly, Jerusalem has built a system of strategic and
defense ties with these Arab states, and it’s Ya’alon who should get the
credit on the Israeli side.
With the Palestinians it’s a bit different. Ya’alon was
far from being a favorite among the PA’s leadership. He was regarded as an
enemy of the PA, and it was no secret. Nonetheless, even Ramallah understood
that it could at least rely on the stability of Ya’alon’s policies.
The current (and likely outgoing) defense minister was one
of the main architects of Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories,
notably its efforts to stop the spread of violence. Ya’alon and the defense
system as a whole have acted the last eight months as a firefighter in the
territories, rushing to stamp out flare-ups, and they were largely successful.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the
Territories, Gen. Yoav Mordechai, ended up winning out: Ya’alon and those
behind him made sure that Israel did everything possible to differentiate
between lone-wolf attackers and the population as a whole.
Thus, even on days when three or four attacks took place,
Israel didn’t look to hurt the PA, and the security forces held back from
taking action against innocent civilians, letting workers continue to enter
And even in the worst days of the last cycle of violence,
security cooperation with the PA was maintained. Palestinian forces stopped
terrorists and passed on critical intelligence about planning by groups to carry
On the other hand, there’s no need to panic and start
opening up the air raid shelters, as some in the Tel Aviv area muttered
Wednesday as Liberman’s appointment hit the airwaves.
Liberman is indeed known for his more extreme and hawkish
statements and positions, but he is also a pragmatic politician and opportunist.
Despite his vow to assassinate Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh within 48 hours if
the bodies of two Israeli soldiers were not returned from Gaza, for instance, he
wouldn’t actually do it.
He’ll instead first try to give some stability to the
defense establishment in a bid to prove he’s responsible and thoughtful, far
from his image as a neighborhood thug on satirical sketch show “Eretz
In other words, the things you can see from the 14th floor
of the Defense Ministry are not the things you see at a party convention or the
Saturday stump stops so beloved by politicians.
Even the Arab states and the Palestinians won’t rush to
boycott the new defense minister.
The PA may see in Liberman an enemy for several reasons,
including that he’s a settler, and he’s regarded as having ties to ousted
Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan — a rival of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. But
still, a survivalist instinct by the PA and its leader will force them to first
take a long hard look at the minister before making any dramatic decisions.
Egypt too, as well as Jordan and even Saudi Arabia,
understands that there are no small number of shared interests with Israel, and
even Liberman will look to keep it that way.