In shock move, Avigdor Lieberman has resigned from his position as Israel's defence minister following a disagreement over the recently-signed ceasefire with Gaza.
Speaking at a press conference in Israel today, Lieberman began by saying that "I assume everyone has tried to guess and I think you guessed correctly – I am indeed here in order to resign from my position as defence minister".
Lieberman explained: "Why now? – From my perspective, what happened yesterday in terms of the ceasefire, in combination with the arrangements with Hamas, is submission to terror. What we are in effect doing is buying short term quiet [in Gaza] and the price will be difficult for [Israel's] security in the long term."
He added: "It's not a secret that in the past few months there were disagreements between [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and myself. I thought that the deal to allow Qatari cash into Gaza was a mistake, and only after he made a written statement was I forced to accept his position."
"I will not list all our disagreements," he added, explaining that he "tried to remain a loyal member of the government as far as possible and to keep all disagreements inside, even at a price electorally."
Political source: Israel suspends Gaza truce talk
Lieberman had announced the surprise press conference following an emergency meeting of his political party today, triggering speculation that he intended to resign from his post. Sources close to the defence minister confirmed his intention ahead of the conference, Haaretz reported.
The Israeli paper added that: "Lieberman does not usually come to the Knesset on Wednesday, making his announcement of a press conference highly unusual."
It is thought that Lieberman's resignation could bring about the collapse of Israel's ruling coalition since, without his Yisrael Beiteinu party, Likud will only hold a one-seat majority in the Knesset. Such a collapse could trigger an early election. Lieberman himself called for elections to be held as soon as possible, telling the press conference that: "What I am also requesting is that, as quickly as possible, we find an agreed date for elections. We must stop our submission to terror and the lack of clarity in our goals […] we should have an agreement between heads of parties."
The immediate political fallout from Lieberman's resignation could see current Education Minister Naftali Bennett – of the Jewish Home party – demand to take over the post as defence minister. Some have speculated however that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be forced to veto this suggestion, which would lead him to take over the role himself. However, there is disagreement over whether Netanyahu could legally manage both portfolios.
Israeli Defence Minister: Security cabinet refuses to direct 'severe blow' at Gaza
As mentioned in his speech, Lieberman's surprise announcement was sparked by a disagreement over Israel's policy in Gaza and the ceasefire agreement reached with Hamas last night. During a cabinet meeting convened to discuss the deal, Lieberman and several colleagues had disagreed with Netanyahu's insistence on reaching a ceasefire.
Netanyahu today defended his decision to invoke the ceasefire, saying that Hamas "begged" for a ceasefire and "they know very well why", the Jerusalem Post reported. In a possible nod to his disagreement with Lieberman, Netanyahu added: "At these times leadership is not doing the easy thing, but the right thing, even if it is hard […] Leadership is standing up to criticism when you know things that are secret and difficult."
Destruction in the besieged Gaza Strip reached levels not seen since the 2014 war earlier this week, after an Israeli intelligence-gathering operation was foiled. Despite allegations that the botched Israeli operation was an attempted assassination, the Israeli army confirmed that its Special Forces had penetrated the Gaza fence – near Khan Yunis in the south of the besieged enclave – to carry out a "complicated intelligence operation".
Seven Palestinians were killed during the escalation in violence that followed, with TV stations and masses of infrastructure destroyed.
READ: Israel strikes positions in Gaza as tensions mount