Avigdor Liberman and Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday lost their right to declare war or take a step that could lead to war on their own when the Knesset passed into law a bill that gave those powers to the security cabinet.
On May 2, the Knesset passed a bill into law that would permit a prime minister to declare war together with only the defense minister – or even by himself, if he also holds the defense portfolio. Tuesday’s vote canceled that law, passed just 11 weeks ago.
Previous prime ministers David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak were all simultaneously defense minister. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also held multiple portfolios and has toyed with the idea of firing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in recent months when they have disagreed on key issues.
The May bill was initially intended to transfer the power to declare war from the cabinet as a whole to the security cabinet, a move designed to prevent leaks – which had the support of both the coalition and leading figures in the opposition. There was agreement in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that a majority of the security cabinet would be needed to make such decisions.
But at the last minute, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) succeeded in passing an amendment giving the prime minister and the defense minister the right to make the decision on their own in extreme circumstances. Sources said that Netanyahu requested the amendment and that government MKs voted for it observing coalition discipline, against their wishes.
Following public criticism, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Netanyahu decided to revert to the previous draft of the bill, but it took time to pass the new bill into law.