Netanyahu chooses Iran attack skeptic as defense minister | News | DW | 17.03.2013
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Netanyahu chooses Iran attack skeptic as defense minister

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has selected Israel’s next defense minister. Moshe Yaalon is known to take a hard-line toward Palestinians, but is cautious about a potential attack against Iran.

Netanyahu's nomination of Yaalon on Sunday comes just days ahead of US President Barack Obama's first trip to the Jewish State.

"In a period so critical to the security of the state of Israel, with all the region around us in turmoil, it is important that this position be filled by a man so rich in experience as Moshe Yaalon," Netanyahu said in a Likud Party press release on Sunday. "In the name of all the citizens of Israel, I wish him success."

Yaalon is a former military chief of staff and a member of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party. He will succeed outgoing center-left politician Ehud Barak.

Hard-line toward Palestinians

The 62-year-old former general supports the settler movement in the West Bank and opposed Israeli's unilateral withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

“We are very much concerned about the prospect of him as defense minister,” Hagit Oran, with the Israeli activist group Peace Now, told the AFP news agency.

“The role of the minister of defense is crucial for settlement issues because every step must be approved by the minister and can often be done without the knowledge of other people in government,” Oran said.

More moderate on Iran

Although Yaalon is known to harbor deep distrust toward the Palestinians, he reportedly supports letting diplomacy run its course before any potential attack on Iran.

“Yaalon is hawkish about the Palestinians like Netanyahu, but he is cautious on Iran,” Amotz Asa-El, a fellow at the liberal Jerusalem think tank Hartman Institute, told the Reuters news agency.

His more moderate stance toward attacking Tehran will likely be welcome by US President Obama, who will visit Israel this week to discuss Iran's atomic program and Syria among other issues. Yaalon, however, has clashed with Washington over Israel's settlement policy in the past.

“I, for one, am not afraid of the Americans,” Yaalon said in 2009. “There are issues on which one should say ‘that's enough.'”

“I believe that Jews have the right to live anywhere in the land of Israel forever,” he said.

slk/hc (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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