By Anees Bargouthi
JERUSALEM (AA) – Last week, Moshe Yaalon officially announced his resignation as Israeli defense minister and member of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament).
His resignation cleared the way for extremist politician Avigdor Lieberman to be appointed defense minister in his stead, in line with an agreement reached between the latter and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Based on this agreement, Netanyahu’s government coalition will now hold 67 out of 120 seats in the Knesset (up from an earlier 61), while the head of the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party will head up the sensitive defense portfolio.
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 10, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak criticized Lieberman’s appointment.
"We will pay a price for this appointment," he said. "I pray it won’t be a heavy one."
He added: "Extremist elements are taking over the state of Israel."
Khalil Shahin, a Palestinian political analyst, believes the dispute between Yaalon and Netanyahu began in March after an Israeli soldier killed an unarmed 21-year-old Palestinian in the West Bank city of Hebron.
"Netanyahu called the soldier’s family and expressed his support, while Yaalon… said he [the soldier] should be punished," Shahin told Anadolu Agency.
The dispute between the two men worsened, he said, after Yaalon expressed support for Israeli Army Deputy Chief-of-Staff Yair Golan, who had compared the political climate in Israel to that of Nazi-era Germany.
Days later, Yaalon had declared that a good army is "one whose officers -- junior and senior -- feel safe to speak their minds at all times with no fear".
- ‘Conflict of values’
Last Friday, Yaalon tweeted that he had resigned from his ministerial post and Knesset seat because he found himself in a "conflict of values and ethics" with Netanyahu.
"It’s become clear that the political partnership between the two men, which began in 2014, has reached an impasse," Fayez Abbas, an expert in Israeli affairs, told Anadolu Agency.
Yet, according to Abbas, Yaalon -- despite his ostensible falling-out with Netanyahu -- can hardly be considered a man of peace.
"While serving as defense minister, Yaalon led a devastating war on the Gaza Strip in 2014 that left hundreds of civilians dead," he said.
"And the Israeli army under Yaalon’s command killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the Intifada [uprising ], while Yaalon also played a pivotal role in the construction of hundreds of [Jewish-only] settlement units [in the occupied West Bank]," Abbas noted.
Israel, he went on to assert, "is rapidly moving from an extremist government to a blatantly fascist one".
With his resignation, observers note, Yaalon paved the way for the resurgence of Lieberman, who is known for criticizing the Israeli army’s approach to Hamas in the blockaded Gaza Strip and Palestinian resistance in the occupied West Bank.
"It will not be long before we see a clash between Lieberman and Army Chief-of-Staff Gadi Eizenkot," Honaida Ghanim, director of the Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies, told Anadolu Agency.
"The gap between the political leadership and the army can be expected to widen," she said.
Ghanim went to note that, besides appointing Lieberman as defense minister, Netanyahu had also agreed to the latter’s demand to apply the death penalty to Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis.
"The Palestinians -- and the entire world -- should brace for the most extremist government in Israel's history," she said.
"At first, Lieberman will give the impression that he’s a moderate, but -- sooner or later -- he will show his true face," she added.
And as Yaalon also resigned from the Knesset, his chair will now be filled by extremist Jewish rabbi Yehuda Glick.
Glick frequently leads incursions by bands of extremist Jewish settlers into occupied East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
He was recently banned from the compound after being accused of having assaulted a Muslim woman at the site -- but an Israeli court later dropped the charges against him.
Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, head of the Supreme Islamic Council and a former Mufti of Jerusalem, told Anadolu Agency that Glick was well known for his outspoken hostility towards Muslims and Arabs.
"Yehuda Glick becoming a Knesset member shows how the Israeli occupation authorities support the Jewish extremists," he said.
"Glick openly calls for the expulsion of Muslims from the Al-Aqsa Mosque," he said. "And now he will be in a position that could allow him to do so."