The political furor surrounding the sharp public reprimand the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff meted out to the soldier, who shot dead an injured Palestinian knife-wielder in Hebron last month, has boiled over into national politics and is lapping at the edges of the Netanyahu government.
The minister and army chief continue to accuse the soldier of violating IDF regulations and its military code. But the military prosecutor was forced to back down from the charge of murder and reduce it to manslaughter in the face of a loud public outcry against criminalizing a soldier who neutralized a terrorist.
The military judges appeared receptive to the popular voice. The first judge rejected the prosecution’s demand to extend his remand in a military jail. Instead, he released the defendant to “open arrest” at a base, after his counsel argued that the soldier shot the Palestinian who had stabbed soldiers, in the belief that he was still dangerous. That ruling was confirmed by an appeals judge.
The issue of the soldier’s guilt will ultimately be settled in court. But meanwhile, as the minister continues to inveigh sternly against the soldier’s offense against “moral values,” the case has moved into the political domain, with gathering impact on the fate of Moshe Ya’alon as much as on the soldier’s.
The political element dominated the defense minister's accusation Thursday, April 7, that some circles of his party, the ruling Likud, were conspiring to end his career.
“”It won’t help them,” he said. “I will not yield in the fight for my vision of Israel and its society. I will carry on striving for a just, sane and moral country, which fights with an iron fist against those who wish us ill yet preserves its values and sensitivity.”
The linkage Ya’alon made between his disapproval of the Hebron soldier conduct and his detractors – whom he earlier denounced as “gang leaders” and “rabble-rousers”- derived from his conviction that certain Likudniks and members of other parties were stirring up the street in order to give him the push.
He was particularly incensed by a visual posted on social media last week, which showed a shooting range target drawn in red over his image.
Inflammatory placards have been used before as catalysts for political and personal liquidations. The authorship of this one is unknown, although its attribution flies all over the political map.
Israel’s mainstream media tend to prejudge high-profile cases of this kind according to their political bias. In the case of Ya’alon versus Hebron soldier, they stand solidly behind the defense minister – in stark contrast to the popular view represented in the social media.
And so, while busy denigrating "extremists," the media have not noticed a nascent counter-movement getting organized to take up the cudgels in defense of the defense minister.
debkafile investigators have uncovered a group working under close cover to counter the wave of anti-Ya’alon opinion and turn it round as a juggernaut driven by Ya’alon for unseating Binyamin Netanyahu and his government.
The group has attracted some disenchanted Likud activists, who think Netanyahu’s time is up. They are ready to break away and establish a right-of-center party, led by Ya’alon, in the company of a mixed bag of retired security chiefs, ex-politicians, active minority party leaders and public figures. They aim for a rerun of the late Ariel Sharon’s successful defection from Likud 11 years ago to lead a new party.
The names of three prominent are mentioned in this connection: Moshe Kahlon, Finance Minister and head of the Kulani party, Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Future party, and, Gideon Saar, former education minister, who temporarily retired from active life in the Likud.
Their game plan is simple: They envisage the defense minister stepping down and, along with certain fellow Likud parliamentarians, crossing the aisle for an opposition no- confidence motion. The Netanyahu government would fall and make way for a general election. The new party would then run for office under Ya’alon as its candidate for prime minister.
The founding group is reported by our investigators to be working on practical steps:
1. It is on the lookout for campaign strategists and image lifters to build up its designated leader. Ya’alon has a good press, but is the villain of the social media – hence a large voting block.
3. First contacts to attract party leaders and prominent former politicians, which are drawing some positive responses.
4. The defense minister has not given the nod to any of these initiatives, but is not averse to meeting its promoters and other interested persons.
5. It now transpires that the vocal dispute over the Hebron soldier issue, which labeled Ya’alon’s detractors “reactionary right-wing extremists” and hailed his champions as seekers of perfect justice, was blown up, if not generated, by the new grouping’s founders as the first step in their propaganda campaign.
6. The decision to reopen an old case against opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog of the Labor part did not just happen out of the blue. It occurred at the perfect moment for burying advanced negotiations for Labor to join the government. This would have given Netanyahu’s coalition a Knesset majority and an extra lease of life – even if the defense minister walked out with other defectors.
Ya’alon has not so far committed himself one way or the other. He could still send his tempters packing. But their initiative may soon lap at the edges of Binyamin Netanyahu’s position at a time that his longevity at the top is becoming less an asset than a liability.