JERUSALEM — Avigdor Liberman resigned as defense minister of Israel on Wednesday, Nov. 14, over a cease-fire with Palestinian terrorist groups — a move that could trigger new elections.
Liberman said the decision to agree to a cease-fire, which followed 25 hours of bombings into southern Israel from Gaza, was “a capitulation to terror.”
He announced his resignation at an early afternoon news conference after first informing his Yisrael Beiteinu party, which he heads.
He said the five members of his party will quit the ruling government coalition and called for new elections to be held as soon as possible.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly will assume the defense minister’s portfolio. Netanyahu also holds the foreign minister portfolio.
With Yisrael Beiteinu exiting the government, the coalition led by Netanyahu still has the narrowest of majorities in the 120-member Knesset with 61 seats.
Meanwhile, the Jewish Home party, which has eight seats in the government, said it will leave the government if its leader, Naftali Bennett, is not named to replace Liberman.
Bennett now serves as education minister and heads the Diaspora portfolio.
Both Liberman and Bennett were opposed to the cease-fire struck on Tuesday night.
“What happened yesterday with the cease-fire with Hamas was a capitulation to terror,” Liberman said in announcing his resignation.
“There is no other definition for it, no other significance. We are buying short-term calm for long-term harm to security.
“The response that we gave to the 500 rockets shot from Gaza was not enough, to say the least. The south should come first. Our weakness is being broadcast to other fronts.”
Speaking of Hamas’s intentions during the flare-up, Lieberman said: “Hamas isn’t talking about coexistence and recognition of Israel. They don’t want to reduce unemployment in Gaza.”
Liberman also said he had not agreed to allow fuel from Qatar and $15 million in cash to enter the Gaza Strip, arguing that it could be used to fund terrorism.
He has previously called for dealing Hamas “a severe blow” in order to restore quiet to Israel’s southern border.
Hamas in a statement following Liberman’s announcement called his resignation “recognition of (Israel’s) defeat at the hands of the Palestinian resistance” and a “victory for Gaza.”
At a memorial event for Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and his wife, Paula, Netanyahu defended the ceasefire announcement, claiming that Hamas “begged” Israel for the ceasefire.
“In times of trial, Ben Gurion made fateful decisions,” said Netanyahu. “Sometimes, he did so contrary to popular opinion, but over time, these decisions turned out to be correct.”
“In routine times, a leader has to be attentive to the feelings of the people, and we are a wise nation. But in times of crisis, at a time of fateful decisions regarding security, the public at times cannot be a partner to decisive considerations that must be hidden from the enemy,” he added.
“At these times, leadership is not doing the easy thing, but the right thing, even if it is hard,” he said.
“Leadership is standing up to criticism when you know things that are secret and sensitive, and which you cannot share with the citizens of Israel and in this case the residents of the south, whom I love and greatly appreciate.”
Palestinian terror groups in Gaza have agreed to commit to a cease-fire of hostilities that have seen more than 400 rockets bombard southern Israel in a 25-hour period.
Four mediators — Egypt, the UN, Norway and Switzerland — helped achieve the cease-fire.
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad said in a joint statement, according to reports, that they are “committed to the cease-fire as long as Israel doesn’t break it and doesn’t attack the Palestinian people.”
The terms were negotiated to go into effect earlier Tuesday afternoon, Nov.13, but rockets continued to be fired from Gaza.
Since the announcement by the Gaza groups later on Tuesday, rockets have not been fired.
An unnamed senior Israeli official told the local media that “Israel maintains its right to act.”
“Requests from Hamas for a cease-fire came through four different mediators. Israel responded that the events on the ground will decide” whether there will be a cease-fire, the official said.
The announcement came shortly after Israel’s Security Cabinet emerged from a seven-hour meeting and released a short statement saying that the Israel Defense Forces was instructed to “continue its strikes as needed.”
Four government ministers were opposed to a cease-fire, the Israeli media reported, naming them as Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party; Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party; Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads Jewish Home; and Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin of the Likud party.
Among the some 460 rockets fired by Palestinian factions in Gaza, more than 100 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
In response, the IDF struck 160 targets belonging to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations, as well as four government installations used for military purposes.
Several of the targets were six- and seven-story buildings, which had “a very significant effect on the other side,” a senior Air Force officer said in an IDF statement.
One person was killed and dozens injured in the rocket attacks from Gaza, more than 100 Israelis were injured and several homes and buildings were hit by the rockets. Seven Palestinians were reported killed in the Israeli attacks on Gaza terror sites.
With reporting from TPS.