Mar 17, 2009

Netanyahu Begins Finalizing Government

By Joel C. Rosenberg

Stopping Iran and “toppling Hamas” top priorities

UPDATED: Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has done everything he can to create a “unity” government with political rivals Tzipi Livni and her Kadima Party, and Ehud Barak and his Labor Party. However, marathon talks over the weekend don’t appear to have been fruitful. So Netanyahu is taking the first steps towards finalizing his government and making it clear that stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program and “toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza” will be his administration’s top priorities.

This comes as the IDF chief of staff told his counterparts in the Obama administration that Israel must be prepared to strike Iran, possibly soon.

In a noteworthy related development, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami announced yesterday that he was ending his bid to challenge current Iranian President Ahmadinejad in the June elections. Khatami did not say why he was bowing out, but speculation suggests that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini has thrown his full weight behind the reelection of Ahmadinejad and is forcing significant challengers off the road.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Netanyahu will ask Israeli President Shimon Peres for a two-week extension to complete negotiations for his new government. Nevertheless, on Monday Netanyahu signed his first coalition deal with the Israel Beiteinu Party, so far Likud’s largest coalition partner. The party is made up largely of Russian immigrants to Israel who are hawks on Iran and Hamas. More announcement should be forthcoming soon. But here’s what we know so far:
  • Avigdor Lieberman will be Foreign Minister and oversee the Iran portfolio (note: the deal Likud struck with Lieberman does include a clause that would allow Netanyahu to shift gears and choose a different Foreign Minister if Labor or Kadima joins the coalition)
  • Danny Ayalon will be the Deputy Foreign Minister
  • Yitzhak Aharonovitch will be the Public Security Minister
  • Stas Meseznikov will be the Tourism Minister
  • Uzi Landau will be the National Infrastructures Minister
  • Sofa Landver will be the Absorption Minister
No definitive word on other key posts yet, but insider speculation suggests the following:
  • Moshe Ya’alon, former IDF chief of staff, as possible Defense Minister
  • Gideon Sa’ar, #2 in the Likud Party, as possible Education Minister

Related Links

Netanyahu may become Israel's PM and finance minister - Reuters
EU warns Netanyahu on hawkish government - International Herald Tribune
Netanyahu advisors tell him to push ahead with Syria track - Haaretz