Avigdor Lieberman

Israel’s hawkish defence minister quits, potentially threatening Netanyahu’s government

Jerusalem: Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hard-line defence minister, stepped down from his post on Wednesday after the government agreed to a cease-fire with Hamas to end two days of clashes in Gaza, in a surprise move that could prompt early elections.

The decision by Lieberman to step down, and to withdraw his hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu party from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, will decrease the number of seats held by the government from 66 to a precarious 61 in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

The battle to replace him could precipitate the beginning of the end of the Netanyahu government. The prime minister, whose calling card has been national security, faces increasing criticism from his right-wing rivals who say he was too quick to agree to the cease-fire.

The political crisis began with a covert Israeli intelligence operation in Gaza on Sunday that went awry and spiralled into the fiercest round of fighting since the last Gaza war in the summer of 2014.

It was not immediately clear who would replace Lieberman as defence minister after the resignation takes effect on Friday.

Naftali Bennett, the education minister who is a member of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party and who frequently espouses bellicose positions, is demanding the defence job. Netanyahu will not be eager to give it to him, Israeli political analysts said.

Read the article in The Sydney Morning Herald.