The resignation of far-right Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in protest of the Gaza truce could trigger early elections as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already grapples with the biggest corruption scandal in Israel’s history. We speak to author and Real News correspondent Shir Hever
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.
It’s not every day that a top government official quits in protest of an end to violence, but that’s just what happened in Israel. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has resigned over the new ceasefire reached in Gaza. Israel and the Palestinian factions there have agreed to a truce after Israel broke the old one with a botched commando raid that led to its worst bombings of Gaza in four years. Both sides have agreed to end attacks under an Egypt-brokered truce. That prompted Lieberman to announce his departure.
AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN: I am indeed here in order to resign from my position as defense minister of the state of Israel. The question is asked, why now? And in my perspective what happened yesterday, yesterday’s ceasefire, in combination with the whole process of arrangements with Hamas, is a submission to terror.
AARON MATE: Lieberman also says he objects to Israel’s recent decision to allow some $15 million in aid from Qatar to reach the Gaza Strip. The money helped pay Gaza’s civil servants, who had gone without full salaries for months. His departure could trigger early elections in Israel next year at a time when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already threatened by a long-running corruption and bribery scandal over the purchase of German submarines. Last week, Israeli police published a long-awaited report recommending a series of indictments against 12 senior Israeli officials, including several close Netanyahu associates. Netanyahu himself, however, was not among those named.
Joining me is Shir Hever, Real News correspondent, author of The Privatization of Israeli Security. Welcome, Shir. First, your reaction to the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman, him protesting an end to violence in Gaza. Help us make sense of his decision.
SHIR HEVER: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Aaron. And Lieberman’s resignation is, in fact, an admission of defeat, because he was completely outmaneuvered politically by Netanyahu. It is the corruption case against Netanyahu which makes Netanyahu want to actually push elections sooner. And the coalition partners of Netanyahu, including Lieberman, have tried to prevent him from doing that. And that led to the series of clashes in which Netanyahu tried to provoke his own coalition partners to abandon the coalition.
When Netanyahu was in Paris for the First World War commemoration event, Lieberman used an opportunity to launch a very risky operation in the middle of the Gaza Strip in Khan Yunis, which is close to the southern edge of the- to the Egyptian border. And senior Israeli officials and officers have entered into Gaza in order to collect intelligence. And Lieberman knew very well that this was a risky operation. And you remember that he started his own political career, Lieberman, in 1996 as the chief of staff for Netanyahu when Netanyahu was first elected prime minister. And then Netanyahu got into a very similar kind of scandal when he sent Israeli Mossad agents to assassinate Khaled Meshaal in Jordan. And that was botched and failed, and led to very embarrassing results for Israel.
But this time Lieberman thought he was going to do the same to Netanyahu by sending these operatives into the middle of Gaza. They were found out. Of course, the Hamas people in Gaza tried to arrest them; the Israelis opened fire, killed two senior Hamas members, and then they were themselves killed. And Lieberman ordered mass bombardments of Gaza as retaliation. Then, of course, Palestinians in Gaza have also used rockets to fire back at Israel, and had much more successful hits than usually, than they usually have, showing that they have somehow improved their rocket technology.
And I believe Lieberman really thought this would be- lead to a much bigger escalation and war; something that he actually wants, unfortunately, to have. And that would change the whole political situation in his favor as the minister of defense in challenging Netanyahu in the next election.
But Netanyahu now from Paris sent his people to reach a truce with Hamas, and completely marginalized Lieberman. So Lieberman finds himself in a situation that he has to resign over a ceasefire. That’s not so unusual for Lieberman, because he is a warmonger, and he has many times in favor of killing Palestinians for any possible reason; and not just Palestinians. But this now means that elections are indeed probably going to be pushed back, pushed early, and that is exactly what Netanyahu wanted all along. So for Netanyahu this is a knockout success.
AARON MATE: Let’s turn to this corruption scandal threatening Netanyahu. You had this report, a long-awaited report published by the Israeli police last week. Not naming Netanyahu, though, but naming some of his associates and other top officials. What do you make of that report? Is this corruption scandal, since it did not indirectly implicate Netanyahu, is it now behind him?
SHIR HEVER: Well, first of all, we have to understand this is the biggest scandal, the biggest case of corruption in the history of Israel. What actually happened there is that the Israeli government bought nine submarines and four Corvettes for more than four billion euros, which they don’t need. And the Israeli navy said we don’t need these vessels, we need other kinds of vessels. We have other things to do with the money. But this conspiracy of at least 12 people- these are the 12 people that were now named by the police- have organized in order to change the government policy and to get those submarines into the country, and to pay Thyssenkrupp, the German company, these $4 billion because Thyssenkrupp then said we’re going to pay a large percentage of that, about 2 percent, which means hundreds of euros, hundreds of millions of euros, as a bribe. Which they call a commission, but in the arms industry above a certain commission level, this is already considered to be a bribe.
The reason that Netanyahu was left out of it is also the reason that Thyssenkrupp was left out of it: because the Israeli police are terrified that if they start looking into this too closely they will expose the levels of corruption in the arms industry in general. This is not just in Israel, but the arms industry in general is a very corrupt issue. And this German company Thyssenkrupp have already sold submarines which have no strategic value and no need to Greece and to Portugal. And in both of these countries there was a big scandal, and there was an investigation. And Thyssenkrupp refused to cancel the deal.
But in this case, because it’s Israel and because the German government has very close ties to the Israeli government, German government said, well, if any kind of corruption would be revealed, we will stop the deal. We’ll stop the submarines and reimburse the money. And that’s something the police is very afraid of. The Israeli police are afraid that if they will stop the deal, then it will expose that, in fact, decisions regarding the heart of Israeli security are taken for the personal gain of corrupt politicians. And Netanyahu is connected to each one of these 12 people named by the police. One of them is his cousin, one of them is his lawyer, and one of them is his former chief of staff. And Netanyahu claims, I didn’t know anything about this.
And first of all, the previous minister of defense Moshe Ya’alon says, well, the police have another document which is now being withheld by the state attorney which shows that the now is connected, but the state attorney refuses to publish the documents. And the second thing that we know is that even if Netanyahu somehow didn’t know what was going on, that shows him to be a completely incompetent Prime Minister who is not aware of the most important decisions taken by the Minister of Defense under under his supervision as a prime minister. So either way there’s no, there’s no way for him to get out of it.
But the Israeli police have made a choice that they’re going to indict Netanyahu not in the case of the submarines, but rather on three other corruption cases. And they’re still open. So for Netanyahu, the corruption story is not over. And that’s why Netanyahu is still adamant to push the elections early. Because if the elections are announced now, the state attorney cannot issue an indictment against Netanyahu. Netanyahu will say, oh, you’re making this an indictment now because there is an election year, and it’s political, and it’s an attempt to overthrow me, so the state attorney will have to wait until after the election. And of course after the election Netanyahu will say, well, I just won the popular vote. I won the election. So the people believe that I’m innocent, and that’s good enough for me.
AARON MATE: And now the resignation of his defense minister Avigdor Lieberman raises the stakes as to the drama surrounding that vote. We’ll leave it there. Shir Hever, Real News correspondent, author of The Privatization of Israeli Security, thank you.
SHIR HEVER: Thank you, Aaron, for having me.
AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.