Netanyahu: I regret Ya'alon's decision to resign from government

Outgoing defense minister says in resignation speech that "dangerous extremists have taken control of Israel."

Netanyahu and Ya'alon (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu and Ya'alon
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the resignation of outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Friday, saying that he wished he would have accepted his offer to become foreign minister.
The prime minister rejected Ya'alon's claim that he was leaving the government and the Knesset because he has a "lack of faith" in Netanyahu.
"The change in portfolios did not stem from a crisis of faith between us, it stemmed from the need to expand the coalition in order to bring stability to Israel in the face of the challenges it is facing," Netanyahu stated.
"I believe that if Bogie Ya'alon was not asked to leave the defense ministry and enter the foreign ministry, what he calls 'a crisis of faith between us' would not have developed, and he wouldn't have resigned," Netanyahu said, using Ya'alon's nickname.
Netanyahu also rejected Ya'alon's claims that the Likud was being taken over by extremist elements.
"The Likud believes in democracy. The Likud is a liberal nationalist movement. A movement that is obligated to preserving Israel as Jewish and democratic state. The Likud represents the main strain of thought among the people, and in doing so obligated to the security of the country and the desire for peace," he said.
Netanyahu said that there was a great diplomatic opportunity on the horizon because of certain developments in the region, and therefore he has made efforts to bring the Zionist Union into a unity government.
The prime minister said that he was "leaving the door open in the most serious fashion" for the Zionist Union to join the government in the future.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog suspended talks to join the coalition earlier this week, when he learned that Netanyahu was bringing Yisrael Beytenu into the coalition and making MK Avigdor Liberman defense minister.
Netanyahu also clarified his position on why he had invited the Yisrael Beytenu party, headed by MK Avigdor Liberman, into the coalition in a surprise announcement made Thursday.
"The change in the distribution of portfolios was not due to a crises of confidence between myself and (Ya'alon), it was due to the need to expand the coalition in order to bring stability to the government so we can tackle challenges ahead," Netanyahu said.
At the moment, Netanyahu governs the thinnest majority in the history of Knesset with a one seat advantage in the120-member parliamentary institution. With Yisrael Beytenu's entry into the coalition, the government expands from 61 seats to 67.
In a press conference held earlier in the afternoon, Ya'alon said that despite his decision to resign from the government and the Knesset he has no intention to step away from political life permanently and he will contend for the leadership of the country again in the future.
Ya'alon announced on social media earlier on Friday that he was resigning after Netanyahu replaced him as defense minister in favor of  Liberman. According to Israeli media reports, Ya'alon turned down an offer by Netanyahu to serve as foreign minister.
Speaking at the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv, Ya'alon remarked that he entered into the political sphere as an emissary in order to work towards the betterment of Israel and in particular towards its improved security.
"In every one of my actions and decisions I weighed the safety of Israel and the Israeli people as well as the well-being of the nation above all else," Ya'alon said.
Ya'alon also spoke to the motives for his resignation, "Much to my dismay, recently I have found myself in conflicts of professional and ethical natures with the prime minister as well as with a number of ministers of Knesset."
"Israel, as well as the Likud party, has been taken over by dangerous and extreme elements." Ya'alon said that Likud of today "is not the Likud that I joined, of Jabotinsky and Begin."
"Unfortunately senior politicians have chosen incitement as means to hold on to power, rather than uniting the society," Ya'alon stated.
Ya'alon concluded his speech by thanking former IDF Chief of Staff Benni Gantz as well as the current Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot for the cooperation and collaboration on issues of security. He commended all of the soldiers in the IDF "in the air, sea and land, combat and combat support soldiers, those in active service as well as reservists" for being the best element of Israeli society and said that "Israel is proud of them and trusts them."
The outgoing defense minister had come under attack recently from the Right for speaking out against an IDF soldier who shot a wounded and prone Palestinian terrorist and for backing the right of IDF commanders to voice their opinions after Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan said that processes taking place in Israel today are reminiscent of events in pre-Nazi Germany.
Sources close to the prime minister said in response to Ya'alon's remarks at the press conference that: "It is interesting that Ya'alon lost faith in Netanyahu only when he was losing his job as defense minister. Just when he understood that in order to widen the government he would have to give up the defense portfolio, however prior to that he had Ya'alon's support."
President Reuven Rivlin responded to Ya'alon's comments by expressing his appreciation of the former defense minister, "I am greatly saddened by the resignation of Moshe Ya'alon. Against the background of recent events, the break from political life he is taking is understandable, and even appropriate, but at the same time represents a great loss to us all."
The White House responded to Ya'alon's departure by saying that it looks forward to working with the next defense minister, adding, "Our bonds of friendship are unbreakable, and our commitment to the security of Israel remains absolute."
Gil Hoffman and Reuters contributed to this report.