If chosen for Defense, Ya'alon will find an urgent agenda on his desk

"This is one of the most complicated times in Israeli history," says a senior defense official.

yaalon 248.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
yaalon 248.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Four years after leaving the Kirya defense complex in Tel Aviv as outgoing chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon appears to be on his way back now that he's been tapped as the incoming defense minister in Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu's new government. Upon hearing the news on Monday, defense officials and IDF sources voiced mixed reactions. Some claimed that Ya'alon and his former deputy, current Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, would make a great pair to lead the defense establishment through its upcoming challenges. Others expressed concern that Ya'alon, who has worked at a Jerusalem-based think tank since resigning from the IDF, lacked the necessary political and diplomatic skills needed to serve as defense minister. Whichever school of thought is right, Ya'alon will find a military in the midst of intensive preparations for a possible strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, a defense budget shrinking along with the global economy, and a Human Resources Division confronted with sinking draft figures. In addition, policy has yet to be set regarding continued Kassam rocket attacks on the South, and there is still a heightened level of alert in the North in light of Hizbullah's ongoing rearmament. "This is one of the most complicated times in Israeli history," one senior defense official said Monday. "Whoever the defense minister is will have his work cut out for him." IDF sources said that Ya'alon and Ashkenazi had a close relationship and pointed to Ya'alon's recommendation that Ashkenazi succeed him. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon overruled Ya'alon and appointed Dan Halutz instead. While Ya'alon has remained silent since coalition negotiations began, The Jerusalem Post analyzed remarks he has made to glean his opinion on current issues. One of the first issues to land on his desk would be the negotiations over captive soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit. In an interview in December, Ya'alon said that while he believed Israel needed to make great efforts to obtain Schalit's release, it should not be "at any price." Hamas is demanding the release of 1,400 prisoners in exchange for the soldier. "Are you willing to give up the State of Israel for a prisoner?" Ya'alon said at the time. "The expression 'at any price' is not appropriate." Another issue would be Egyptian efforts to achieve a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip. While the current government has rejected current proposals, the matter will likely come up for reexamination. Judging by Ya'alon's past remarks, he would likely advise against accepting a truce with Hamas. "Hamas has an interest in a one-year cease-fire in order to rearm," Ya'alon said in January. "We are providing Hamas with electricity, and they are using it to manufacture rockets." For Ya'alon, Iran is the greatest threat to Israel. At the Herzliya Conference in January, he said that if the regime in Teheran were toppled, "wind would be taken out of the sails" of most of the world's terror organizations. "The Iranian regime is funding and arming most of the terror organizations," Ya'alon said. "This wave must be stopped, and this can be achieved by diplomatic and economic isolation and, if necessary, military force." Among one of his first tasks as defense minister would be to fight the Treasury to, at the very least, maintain defense spending. In addition, Ya'alon would find a General Staff in need of a new round of appointments, including a new deputy chief, a new head of military intelligence and a coordinator of government activities in the territories.