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Tactless Warrior or Weathered Maverick?

Binyamin Rose

As Israel’s new defense minister, can Avigdor Lieberman tame himself while keeping Israel’s enemies at bay?

Monday, May 02, 2016



When Avigdor Lieberman was Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, he summoned the media to his headquarters one mid-December morning in 2011 for an “urgent” news conference. The occasion: Word got out that Prime Minister Netanyahu insulted Lieberman by dispatching a lower-ranking emissary to Turkey for “secret” talks aimed at mending relations strained by the Gaza flotilla debacle. Getting dissed was nothing new to Lieberman. Netanyahu was coerced more than once into sending an understudy to a foreign land, most notably the US and France, due to their revulsion for Lieberman.


On this morning, Lieberman acted unconcerned. A man with a sense of humor, mainly for his own jokes, he laughed off the idea that talks were held behind his back. He retold the old anecdote about the diplomat who lost a briefcase full of classified documents. Once the diplomat learned the contents had been revealed and plastered all over the newspapers, he reacted by ordering his underlings to shred those selfsame documents.

After spinning this yarn, Lieberman looked around the room at the approximately 30 members of the press corps — Mishpacha among them — all seated around his large, oval, glass table to see who was laughing and who wasn’t. 

Fortunately for him — or perhaps the press, if they wanted to get invited back — everyone got the joke, or at least pretended to.

Yet Avigdor Lieberman’s sudden appointment as Israel’s minister of defense is no laughing matter, especially considering its significance in a number of crucial arenas.

The speed with which Prime Minister Netanyahu moved to mend ties with Lieberman and cement a new center-right coalition, after talks over a center-left national unity government with Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog fell through, stunned the Israeli left and its cheerleaders in the international community.

Domestically, Lieberman’s appointment portends a major shake-up in the defense ministry, the office that calls the shots on IDF military action and is head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate. His three years of mandatory IDF experience, during which he reached the modest rank of corporal, pale in comparison to his predecessor Moshe Yaalon, a Yom Kippur War hero and former IDF chief of staff, a cause for deep concern. Yaalon resigned in a huff last Friday, after a personal and public spat with Netanyahu.

Lieberman would be the fifth, not the first, civilian to serve as defense minister. But pundits are already giving him a bad rap, comparing him to Amir Peretz, the Labor defense minister who was discredited for poor decision-making in the 2006 Second Lebanon War; rather than Moshe Arens, the Likudnik who directed the IDF’s successful Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, which ended in the destruction of the Palestinians’ terrorist infrastructure in Judea and Samaria.

It may seem unfair to judge him before his first day on the job, but getting battered and bruised is nothing new for the husky Lieberman, who in his college days had a few rows with Arab students at Hebrew University and also worked as the bouncer at the university’s student club.

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