Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett

Is defense minister there to protect Netanyahu or Israel?

Opinion: Naftali Bennett was given his long-coveted job in an attempt by the prime minister to secure his own political survival and escape his criminal indictments, and was soon threatened with dismissal when it appeared that he would not toe the line

Einav Schiff |
Published: 01.16.20 , 23:53
In November 2019, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tapped New Right leader Naftali Bennett as the new defense minister.
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  • No, Netanyahu had not suddenly fallen in love with Bennett or his position on defense, especially since the New Right failed miserably at the polls in the first of Israel's three election cycles in less than a year and narrowly squeaked into the Knesset in the second. (The third vote is in March.)
    נפתלי בנט ובנימין נתניהונפתלי בנט ובנימין נתניהו
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett
    (Photo: GPO)
    One does not need to have a keen political eye to discern that this was nothing but a cheap opportunistic move by the prime minister.
    Netanyahu effectively gave Bennett his long-coveted shot at the ministry - and the chance for photo ops with IDF troops - in exchange for his party's continued presence in the right-wing bloc currently protecting the prime minister from prosecution for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
    Bennett swept into the ministry and launched a PR campaign that included those touted photos with the troops. He succeeded in wiping from the electorate's collective memory any trace of his colossal failure as education minister.
    שר הביטחון נפתלי בנט רמטכ״ל אביב כוכבי ב תרגיל מבצעי ב רמת הגולןשר הביטחון נפתלי בנט רמטכ״ל אביב כוכבי ב תרגיל מבצעי ב רמת הגולן
    Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on the Golan Heights with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, right
    (Photo: Defense Ministry)
    He also managed to wipe away the memory of his promises, those made as he was fighting to be given the Defense Ministry - promises to combat the terror groups in Gaza, to hit them with economic warfare and to present an entirely new and more aggressive defense agenda.
    Yet it seems the appointment of the New Right leader as interim defense minister has yielded nothing for Netanyahu, who recently conveyed to Bennett a clear message: Do what I ask politically or be ousted from your new job.
    The official explanation offered by the prime minister's close associates to this unusual threat was that Bennett would surely work against Likud and its leader in his election campaigning efforts.
    But in fact, fearing a loss in the upcoming elections, as some public opinion polls indicate, Netanyahu tried to coerce Bennett into accepting a political union with the controversial, extreme-right leader of a fringe group, along with the larger Jewish Home party.
    But whatever the makeup of Bennett's Knesset list, he will be vying for favor among the same voters as Netanyahu.
    ראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו הצהרה לאחר פרסום החלטות היועמ"שראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו הצהרה לאחר פרסום החלטות היועמ"ש
    Benjamin Netanyahu lashes out over his indictment
    (Photo: AP)
    If Bennett's appointment was just a political maneuver on the part of the prime minister, and his reluctance to toe the line is reason enough for his dismissal – what is the point of the Defense Ministry or the person heading it?
    What is the public to think about the person responsible for the lives of civilians and soldiers alike, as well as the enormous budget that comes with the job?
    Is this appointment a tool in Netanyahu's play for political survival or is there responsibility attached to it?
    This is not altogether surprising. The Foreign Ministry is as dead as a dodo after Netanyahu drained its coffers and left diplomats unable to carry out their jobs.
    Why should the Defense Ministry meet a better fate?
    Surely the IDF chief of staff can take care of defense. After all, it's just a another minister in the service of Netanyahu.

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