Netanyahu faces fierce criticism as cabinet in disarray over crisis

Prime minister sacks deputy defence minister over ‘irresponsible’ comments

  Danny Danon, deputy defence minister fired for attacking the leadership over handling of crisis in Gaza: Photograph/EPA

Danny Danon, deputy defence minister fired for attacking the leadership over handling of crisis in Gaza: Photograph/EPA

Thu, Jul 17, 2014, 01:01

Binyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet is in disarray as the Israeli prime minister comes under fire from several of his most senior ministers for his handling of the crisis in Gaza.

The storm of public criticism from his own ranks resulted in the sacking on Tuesday night of the deputy defence minister, Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu’s own Likud party.

Danon told the media on Tuesday that Hamas had humiliated Israel by setting conditions for peace, after Netanyahu said he was willing to accept the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. Hamas claimed that it had not been consulted over the ceasefire conditions and rejected it.

‘Sharp remarks’

“At a time when . . . Israel and the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] are in the midst of a military campaign against the terrorist organisations and taking determined action to maintain the security of Israel’s citizens, it cannot be that the deputy defence minister will sharply attack the leadership of the country regarding the campaign,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Tuesday.

“These sharp remarks on the deputy defence minister’s part are irresponsible, especially given his position. They also serve the Hamas terrorist organisation as a tool to attack the government with.”

The divisions within the Israeli cabinet have been mocked by Hamas, with spokesman Fauzi Barhoum calling the Danon sacking a “victory for the resistance”.

Alliance crumbles

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hawkish foreign minister, split his Yisrael Beiteinu party from Likud – dismantling a crucial alliance for Netanyahu – having accused the prime minister of hesitation over a ground invasion of Gaza.

Lieberman also criticised the government for accepting the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on Tuesday and called for an IDF ground assault and occupation of the Gaza Strip, arguing that a ceasefire would allow Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups to replenish their stock of weapons.

“All this hesitation works against us. We must go all the way: there is no alternative. We have to end this conflict with the IDF in control of all of Gaza . . . There is no other way to tackle the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror that rules Gaza,” Lieberman said at a press conference on Tuesday night.

Netanyahu’s election last year was only possible at the head of a shaky coalition of right-wing parties, the cracks in which appear to be emerging over the war in Gaza.

Danon and Lieberman are not Netanyahu’s only critics. Israeli media reported that another senior figure on the Israeli right, Naftali Bennett, who leads the Jewish Home party, also voted against a ceasefire.

Haaretz has reported that Lieberman and Bennett both claim they were not informed about the ceasefire by the government but heard about the proposed deal through the Israeli media.

Analysts have said the spats between Netanyahu and his right-wing cabinet colleages should be seen within the broader framework of Israel’s shaky coalition dynamics. Michael Stephens, deputy director at Qatar-based thinktank Rusi, said the divisions were extremely damaging to the Israeli government generally.

“[The Lieberman] brand of right-wing populism is actually hurting Bibi more than he initially thought: Lieberman was always a threat but the thinking was Likud-Beitenu would contain him. Now it’s more clear that the right in general is fractured, and particularly at odds with the security establishment.”

Shift to centre

Hugh Lovatt, Israel/Palestine project co-ordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the split could “help to balance out the ruling coalition and glue it around Netanyahu” as more extreme voices gave way to centrist elements of the government, such as justice minister Tzipi Livni, who have called for restraint on Israel’s part and a greater willingness to reach a ceasefire with Hamas.

“As far as Danny Danon is concerned, he is increasingly seen as a potential rival to Netanyahu within his own party and has been gaining increasing popularity. Netanyahu’s [sacking of him] may backfire: now that Danon is out of the cabinet he will have even more freedom to criticise him,” Lovatt said.

– (Guardian service)