Moshe Ya’alon: meet Israel’s new defence minister

Incoming Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Photo: Reuven Kapuscinski, Wikimedia)
Incoming Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Photo: Reuven Kapuscinski, Wikimedia)

Incoming Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon has experience in orchestrating extrajudicial assassinations abroad and massive destruction and displacement in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Netanyahu declares that Ya’alon thus possesses the necessary experience to deal with “the turmoil around us.” The new minister does not believe the current PA is a partner for peace and views a nuclear Iran and Middle East political changes as being immediate threats to Israel. Reflecting Israeli society, Ya’alon does not see the ever deepening Israeli occupation as a threat.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appointed Sunday Likud MK and former Israeli Army Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon as Israel’s next defense minister.  In the previous government Ya’alon served as minister of strategic affairs.

MK Ya’alon was born as Moshe Smolinsky in Kiryat Haim, an industrial suburb of Israel’s northern city of Haifa. As a teenager, he was a member of the Histadrut’s youth movement, Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, and in 1967 became a member of Ya’alon, a group of young people who wished to support settlements in Israel’s southern Arava area. Moshe Smolinsky, wishing to express his identification with the pioneering Zionist idea, changed his surname to Ya’alon.

In 1968 Ya’alon was drafted to the Israeli army and volunteered for the paratroopers’ Airborne Nahal battalion. He served as platoon commander and platoon sergeant, finishing his regular military service with the rank of sergeant in 1971.

With the outbreak of the October 1973 Middle East war, Ya’alon was drafted to reserve duty. After the war Ya’alon returned to permanent military service and graduated with honours from the Infantry Officer Course. He served as an officer in several paratroopers’ battalions and later in the special commandoes, Sayeret Matcal.

As chief commander of Israel’s special commandoes, Ya’alon commanded the 1988 operation during which Palestinian leader Abu Jihad was assassinated in Tunisia. Later he took part in actions to kidnap Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon as part of an attempt to exchange them for captured Israeli pilot Ron Arad.

Ya’alon was appointed chief of staff in July 2002, two months after Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield, the largest Israeli military attack on the West Bank since the 1967 war. Ya’alon held this position for three years.

As chief of staff Ya’alon ordered several large military operations in the Gaza Strip. While these operations were not similar in scope to Operation Defensive Shield, they involved Israeli army incursions into the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City and into Rafah, Beit Hanoun, Jabalia refugee camp and Khan Younis. The stated purpose of these incursions: destroying Palestinian home and property. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed in these operations.

In May 2004, under Ya’alon command the Israeli army launched a major military campaign in the Gaza Strip that resulted in unprecedented destruction. During that operation the army razed entire rows of houses along the border with Egypt and caused extensive destruction deep inside of Rafah. Israeli armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozers indiscriminately ripped up roads, destroyed water and sewage systems, and turned agricultural fields into barren patches of earth. According to Human Rights Watch, these incursions left 254 houses destroyed and nearly 3,800 people homeless.

Accusations of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity have been leveled against Ya’alon for these military operations.

After the appointment Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that Ya’alon possesses the necessary experience to deal with the ‘turmoil around us’.

“During such a crucial time for the security of the State of Israel, when everything is in turmoil around us, it is important that a man with Moshe Ya’alon’s experience hold this position,” Netanyahu said. “In the name of all of Israel’s citizens, I wish him good luck.”

His past experience notwithstanding, Ya’alon doesn’t perceive the Palestinian question as a top priority for Israel, at least according to a list of priority issues he posted on his Facebook page.

First on the list is the Iranian nuclear program. According to unconfirmed yet widespread reports, Ya’alon has, until now, been in the camp of those opposed to an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, preferring to let the US take the lead.

Secondly, Ya’alon made reference to the political instability washing over nearly all of Israel’s bordering countries. At the core of his worries are the situation in Syria and the Sinai Peninsula, and he regards both as an immediate danger to Israel.

The last subject mentioned by Ya’alon is the “Israeli – Palestinian issue,” referring to the stalemate situation in political negotiations vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority. Ya’alon’s position on this issue is well known:  he holds that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is not a viable peace partner at this time.

The growing unrest in the Palestinian streets over the past few weeks may change Ya’alon’s wish list and once again he will have a chance to prove his capacity to order the use of modern military weaponry to face civil population and badly armed guerrillas.

 

* This article was published by the Alternative Information Center (AIC)

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