‘I’ll be defense minister,’ declares Netanyahu

‘I’ll be defense minister,’ declares Netanyahu

‘I’ll be defense minister,’ declares Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would take on the defence minister portfolio, rejecting calls to dissolve his government even as early elections appeared increasingly likely.

In a clear criticism of Bennett and Avigdor Liberman, who resigned from the Defense Ministry last week, sparking a coalition crisis, Netanyahu said: "The Security Cabinet can not be leaky or turned into a political battering ram".

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, has already threatened to bring down the government if he is not appointed defence minister.

Netanyahu spoke Sunday night after a crucial meeting with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on resolving the coalition crisis.

"If (Netanyahu) pulls a rabbit out of his hat, we'll see", the finance minister, whose centre-right Kulanu party holds 10 seats, told Israeli television Saturday.

Netanyahu is trying to convince them to stay, and his Likud allies are already preparing to pin the blame on them if that effort fails.

The development comes on the heels of Avigdor Lieberman's resignation as Israeli defence minister last week amid a reported disagreement with Benjamin Netanyahu over the prime minister's decision to agree to a ceasefire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The prime minister said in a televised address that "there is no place for politics or personal considerations" when it comes to Israel's security.

"Today, I take on for the first time the position of defence minister", said Netanyahu, speaking from Israel's defence headquarters in Tel Aviv in a statement broadcast live at the top of the evening newscasts.

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The crisis began when the defence minister resigned in opposition to an Israeli ceasefire with Gaza militants. His Yisrael Beiteinu party has also quit the governing coalition, and its five MPs have withdrawn support for the government, reducing the 66 seats that Netanyahu's coalition had to 61. If he survives until the end of next year - whether by winning early elections or those due by next November - he would fulfill his dream of becoming Israel's longest-serving leader.

Both Bennett and Kahlon, along with Shas chairman Aryeh Deri have said the country is better off holding elections as soon as possible.

Bennett said that "if the prime minister is true to his words, and I want to believe that he will be, then we will stand by his side".

"What's most unsafe to Israel is that we've begun thinking there's no solution to terror - to terrorists, to rockets, that there's nothing to do", Bennett said.

Bennett criticized Netanyahu for indecisiveness and lack of fighting spirit.

Were elections to be held now, Netanyahu's Likud party would still win by a landslide, a survey conducted by Hadashot revealed on Wednesday.

Israeli residents of southern communities hit by barrages of rockets from Gaza last week have also protested, calling for tough action against Hamas, with which Israel has fought three wars since 2008. "During a period like this, you don't go to elections", he said.

According to Einat Wilf, a former member of the Knesset and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Mr Bennett fears that with the large overlap between their parties' bases, voters would have prioritised Mr Netanyahu's survival over strengthening Jewish Home.

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