TEL AVIV – Education Minister and head of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett on Monday walked back on a promise to quit the coalition if he is not made defense minister, saying he would back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the role and ensure Israel goes back to “winning” its wars.
Bennett’s announcement, which he made alongside his second-in-command, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, leaves only Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon still threatening the coalition’s one-seat majority with a call for early elections.
Despite supporting Netanyahu’s decision to take the defense helm, Bennett slammed the government for a series of blunders on that front, saying, “the ship of Israel’s security has sailed in the wrong direction.”
Nevertheless, he said he would “stand by the prime minister’s side” to “change direction” and navigate Israel out of its “deep security crisis.”
“We think that there is no answer to terror, to rockets and mortars, but there is a solution: we can get back to winning,” he said.
On Sunday, Netanyahu announced that he would remain defense minister and urged his coalition partners not to topple the government at a time when Israel is in “one of our most complex periods in terms of security.”
Referencing Netanyahu’s speech, Bennett said the prime minister “promised the Israeli public to change paths, to lead to a dramatic change in security, to change his direction from the past ten years towards strength.”
“If the prime minister is serious about his intentions, and I want to believe his words last night, I hereby notify the prime minister — we are removing all of our political demands at this time and stand with you, ready to offer assistance,” Bennett said.
“I assume this announcement will take its political toll, but we’ll survive. It is better to let the prime minister win in a political battle than let (Hamas chief Ismail) Haniyeh defeat the State of Israel,” he added.
“If the government goes on the right track, leads as a true right-wing government — it’s worth a try. The ball is in the prime minister’s court. In the coming weeks, the dramatic change to defense will be put to the test,” he continued. “This test will be in actions, not words … and we won’t stand as spectators examining the prime minister, we will of course help out and do our best to assist.”
Bennett said that after “530 rockets were fired at Israeli communities” and an anti-tank missile was launched by Hamas at an IDF bus, Israel needs to stop fooling itself that everything is ok.
“Hamas and Hezbollah are becoming more arrogant by the day, believing we are afraid to confront them. What Netanyahu describes as ‘responsibility’ is often perceived by our enemies as hesitancy — and the line between the two is thin,” he continued.
On Monday, the Kulanu party’s faction chair, MK Roy Folkman, vowed that early elections would happen despite Bennett and Shaked reneging on their promise.
“The coalition hasn’t been functioning properly for several weeks. We will go to elections even if Bennett and Ayelet Shaked don’t resign,” he told Army Radio.