Netanyahu names Israel's new anti-Palestinian defense minister
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday chose Moshe Yaalon, an ex-general and vice premier from his right-wing Likud party, to be the country’s next defense minister, a government official said.
Yaalon, 62, spent the past four years in Netanyahu's inner circle of ministers, routinely boosting the right-wing prime minister and his strategic outlook. He was widely seen as Netanyahu’s first choice for the position.
He shares the prime minister's hostility towards Palestinians. In a 2002 interview to Haaretz newspaper, Yaalon said of the second Intifada that the “Palestinian threat harbors cancer-like attributes that have to be severed. There are all kinds of solutions to cancer. Some say it's necessary to amputate organs but at the moment I am applying chemotherapy.”
In January, Yaalon spoke out against the creation of a Palestinian state. He has also come out as a strong supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank – which are considered illegal under international law.
Officials say that he has been more cautious than Netanyahu about a possible war between Israel and Iran, without excluding the possibility altogether.
"Yaalon is hawkish about the Palestinians like Netanyahu, but he is cautious on Iran," said Amotz Asa-El, fellow at the Jerusalem think-tank Hartman Institute, who has followed the incoming defense minister's military and political career.
The government official said Yaalon was appointed to the post by Netanyahu, who was assigning cabinet positions two days after agreements were signed to form a new coalition government, which is expected to take office on Monday.
Yaalon will replace Ehud Barak, who headed the Labor Party in the outgoing coalition and ran the Defense Ministry for the past seven years. Barak was not a candidate in a January 22 national election.
Yaalon led Israeli commandos in the 1988 assassination in Tunis of Fatah founder Abu Jihad. As general he favored tough tactics against Palestinians revolting in the West Bank and Gaza – putting him in the sights of war-crimes lawsuits by their supporters abroad.
He served as armed forces chief from 2002 until 2005, when his term was not extended after he opposed Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip that year.