Avigdor Lieberman

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Defense Minister of Israel

“The fact that I moved to Israel in 1978 without knowing the language, without having contacts here, and without capital, and I now sit here with the general staff as defense minister...proves that Israel is a land of opportunity without limits and that we are more American than America.”

"The peace process is based on three false basic assumptions; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main fact of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.”

"The conflict includes not only the Arabs in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, but Israeli Arabs also. The linkage between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Arab population — it will destroy us, it is impossible. What is the logic of creating one and a half countries for one people and a half country for the Jewish people?"

“It is a dispute about our values. It is not about territory. The values in contention are those of the West versus those of the Islamists. It’s a fight between two civilizations.”

“Israel is the only country in the world with the concept of “the army is the state” which is not a cliche but the reality. Even today, most of the soldiers in battle are reserves, people who from day-to-day are civilians. That is why the job of the IDF...is a lot more significant than the work of other countries.”

You were born on June 5, 1958 in Kishinev, Moldavia in what was then the Soviet Union (now Ukraine). After migrating to Israel in 1978, you served in the Israeli Defense Forces, and you later received your B.A. in social sciences and international relations from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

You served as director-general for Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. With a now significant amount of political power, you helped to create the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) party. This right-wing party welcomes and significantly supports new Jewish immigrants, particularly those from Russia. It is also wary of the Israeli Arab population, and generally takes a hard-line stance on negotiations with the Palestinians. In the 2009 elections, Yisrael Beiteinu exceeded all expectations, finishing third, ahead of the venerable Labor Party. Owing to these results, you became the effective kingmaker, and were able to secure the Foreign Ministership in return for your party's participation in Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition, serving in this role from 2009 until 2012, and again from 2013 until 2015.

You have had a tempestuous history with Benjamin Netanyahu. It was expected that when Netanyahu's Likud bloc won the 2015 election that you and your party would again join his government, but growing tensions between the two you led to your going into the opposition for the first year of Netanyahu's fourth government. You were very critical of Netanyahu’s policies during the 2014 Gaza War, feeling that Israel should have gone into Gaza full force against Hamas, and Netanyahu resented your attacks, which he came to feel were politically motivated. However, when Netanyahu came to feel that he needed a broader coalition in 2016, he negotiated simultaneously with you and with the center-left Zionist Union, then led by Isaac Herzog. It was generally understood that Netanyahu wanted to solidify a right-wing coalition, and you exacted a heavy price for your participation--the defense ministership.

The Israeli Ministry of Defense is the governmental department responsible for defending the State of Israel from internal and external military threats. The Ministry oversees most of the Israeli security forces, including the Israel Army (IDF), as well the Israeli military and aerospace industries. The Defense Minister is the de facto sovereign in the West Bank, and the position is considered to be the second most important in the Israeli cabinet, below only that of the Prime Minister. Over the history of Israel, nearly half of Israeli Prime Ministers have held the position of Minister of Defense in addition to their Prime Ministerial duties.

It is very interesting to note that when it comes to matters related to the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, the IDF leadership is often further to the left than the political leadership, a fact that is especially noteworthy as the political parties of the center-left were politically weak throughout the first decade and a half of the 21st century. Several recent IDF heads, for example, have pushed for a more aggressive approach to finding a two-state solution, and have sought ways to turn down the heat of tensions that emerged along the Israel-West Bank border in 2015-2016.

IDF leaders have often felt unfairly vulnerable to attacks from Israeli political leaders seeking (in their eyes) to score easy points with their base by calling for what the defense leadership often regarded as impractical and even dangerous policies. In fact, you were one such leader calling, in the midst of the Gaza War, for Israel to reoccupy the Gaza Strip and eliminate Hamas rule. According to J.J. Goldberg, writing in the Forward, “the military command told the cabinet at the time that reoccupying Gaza would take up to two years and cost thousands of Israeli lives. Privately, generals grumbled that the ministers calling for the more sweeping measures had little grasp of military operations and were driven by ideology rather than practical security considerations.”

The skepticism with which many military leaders will view your appointment is amplified by the fact that you did not even attain officer status during your tenure in the army. This is an extremely rare eventuality, and this lack of experience will harm your credibility. Your predecessor, Moshe Ya’alon (who headed the IDF before his appointment as Defense Minister) stood largely with the IDF heads against the political leaders, especially those on the political right and among the settlers movement. Many are curious to see whether tensions between you and the defense establishment will increase over matters related to the Palestinians.

You strongly support the idea of Israel, and you champion the rights of Israeli settlers (you yourself live in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim). You worry about the presence of Arab Israelis within the Israeli (i.e. Jewish national state) borders, and their possible connections to radical and violent Arab groups. You label Hamas as a terrorist organization, and following the 2006 elections, you voiced your concern about Hamas' power and a possible Palestinian unity government that would not recognize Israel's right to existence. You think that many of the problems between Israelis and Palestinians stem from inadequate political leadership and cultural differences between the peoples. Due to these deep-seated cultural and historical differences, you think that Israelis and Arabs should be separated. Many find this idea controversial and even racist; however, you think that this is the only plan that will ensure security for both groups of people. In 2004, you developed a plan to separate the Israelis and the Arabs named the Lieberman plan. It outlined the exchange of territories and populations so that Arabs would live under Palestinian jurisdiction and Israelis, even settlers, would live under Israeli jurisdiction. This plan did not move past the planning stages, but this resettlement plan angered both the Israeli left and most Arabs in the region.

You often disagree with those in liberal or moderate political groups. Though you want to promote peace and nonviolence within the Middle East, you are willing to employ military action to obtain your desired goal of a safe and secure state of Israel. Some accuse you of inhumanity, racism, and treason; others see you as a champion of the rights of Jews and a believer in a true Jewish State. You certainly have a strong commitment to Israel and a strong desire to seek a resolution to the Arab-Israeli Conflict. This resolution, however, is not to come at any cost, and must protect Israel from what you see as a profound threat from Arabs both within and outside Israel. It is also important to mention that you are widely thought to have designs on the Prime Ministership, and you may be viewing your tenure as Defense Minister as an opportunity to strengthen your reputation and to appeal to a broader audience. Perhaps to that end, your initial moves as Defense Minister had a much more conciliatory air to them, leading many to think that you may be trying both to move to the center of the Israeli political spectrum and to rehabilitate your image internationally, where many see you as a free-wheeling and even reckless extremist. This could explain the fact that immediately upon taking the Defense Ministership you affirmed your support for a two-state solution and even stated that the Arab Peace Initiative holds promise as the basis for a regional solution. In sum, you have a reputation as a no-nonsense truth teller who sometimes lacks the vitally important sense of the niceties of politics and diplomacy, which has resulted both in your having some very devoted allies, and in your burning more than a few bridges. You are the leader of a large and politically influential bloc of Jewish emigres from Russia, and you have a strong and mutually admiring relationship with Vladimir Putin. Ultimately, perhaps, you are a political survivor and there will be many people watching what you make of this opportunity—one you’ve long sought—to hold the second most powerful position in Israel.

Goldberg, J. J. (2016, May 26). Hoping To Stabilize His Cabinet, Benjamin Netanyahu Destabilizes Israeli Democracy. Retrieved June 02, 2016, from http://forward.com/opinion/israel/341455/hoping-to-stabilize-his-cabinet-benjamin-netanyahu-destabilizes-israeli-dem/?attribution=home-top-nav-section-3-featured-article-text-1

Lis, J. (2014, July 7). Lieberman ends partnership with Netanyahu, dismantles Likud-Beiteinu - National. Retrieved June 02, 2016, from http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.603492

Mualem, M. (2016). Can Liberman guarantee stability for Netanyahu's coalition? Retrieved June 02, 2016, from http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/06/netanyahu-moshe-kahlon-avigdor-liberman-yair-lapid.html?utm_source=English List - 052616

Pfeffer, A. (2016, June 1). The downsides of Lieberman being the weakest defense minister in Israel's history - Israel News. Retrieved June 02, 2016, from http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.722556

Rozovsky, L. (2016, May 29). The dubious ties between Lieberman's man and Moscow - Israel News. Retrieved June 02, 2016, from http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.722073

Zitun, Y. (2016, May 31). Avigdor Lieberman's first day as defense minister. Retrieved June 02, 2016, from http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4810333,00.html

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