netanyahu reverses firing of yoav gallant israels defense minister

Yoav Gallant was dismissed last month after expressing concern about the pace of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan.

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel announced on Monday night that he had reversed his decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, 15 days after Mr. Gallant was nominally dismissed for criticizing the pace of the government’s contentious plan to overhaul Israel’s justice system.

Mr. Netanyahu had never formally confirmed Mr. Gallant’s ouster, which set off widespread unrest and led the government to suspend its judicial plan until the summer. But the announced reversal came amid a wider effort within Israel to project a sense of unity at a time of deep social division and upheaval, and amid fears that Israel’s enemies had been emboldened by the instability created by the judicial plan.

“Gallant will remain in his position and we will continue to work together for the security of the citizens of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a speech broadcast live on prime-time television. He added, “There were disagreements between us, even serious disagreements on some issues, but I decided to leave the disagreements behind us.”

Mr. Gallant was technically fired on March 26, a day after he said the government’s plan to limit the influence of the Supreme Court had provoked disquiet within the military he oversees, and that it was endangering Israel’s national security.

But in recent days, government officials had privately signaled that the firing would likely be reversed, after growing concern that the turmoil had made Israel seem weak in the eyes of its opponents.

After Mr. Netanyahu’s speech, Mr. Gallant posted on Twitter a recent photograph of him attending a military event with Mr. Netanyahu, and wrote that the two men “continue together at full strength, for the security of Israel.”

Mr. Gallant’s reinstatement was greeted with relief in much of the country, as there have been growing calls for greater expressions of military strength after a rise in attacks from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, as well as spiraling violence in the occupied West Bank.

Gil Cohen-Magen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Many Israelis were particularly alarmed by a rare barrage of rockets from Lebanon last week, since it summoned memories of the devastating 2006 war with Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia and political movement that dominates southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has repeatedly expressed excitement in recent weeks about Israel’s internal crises, creating the impression that he views them as an opportunity to attack Israel. There are also signs of a growing partnership between Hezbollah and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist militia that controls the Gaza Strip, prompting fears that the two armed groups may strike Israel at once.

Alarm also rose last month when the Israeli military reported a decline in reservists reporting for volunteer duty, after thousands of them warned that they would not serve as protest against the judicial overhaul, setting off fears of a threat to Israel’s military readiness.

As Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu has spent most of his career successfully projecting himself as a steady guardian of Israel’s security. But since he was re-elected for a third time late last year, taking the helm of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, that image of stability has been ruined by rising violence, domestic turmoil, disputes with foreign allies and extreme actions by some of his ministers.

As a result, Mr. Netanyahu’s opinion poll ratings have begun to plummet. In one poll last week, his party, Likud, was projected to win only 20 seats and third place in a hypothetical new election — down from 32 in the last election, in which Likud finished first.

Jalaa Marey/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Acknowledging those concerns in his speech on Monday, Mr. Netanyahu said: “People of Israel, your security is our supreme mission. We do not want a war. We will do everything to prevent it, but if it is required, our enemies will meet the State of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces and the security services at their full strength.”

But Mr. Netanyahu’s expressions of unity went only so far. He blamed the political opposition for making Israel more vulnerable, contending that their protests and criticism had exacerbated the country’s instability and that their decisions while running the government last year had led to the security threats now confronting the country.

“I call on all opposition leaders to stop doing small politics and support the State of Israel in this time of trial,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

Those comments set off a fierce backlash from opposition leaders, who praised the decision to reinstate Mr. Gallant but criticized Mr. Netanyahu for attempting to shift the blame.

“It is time for him and his ministers to stop whining and finally take responsibility,” Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition and Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor as prime minister, said in a statement. “The cancellation of the hasty and scandalous dismissal of Defense Minister Gallant is the right step, and I congratulate him,” Mr. Lapid added. “Now stop complaining and go to work.”

In his speech, Mr. Netanyahu declined to say whether he would uphold a practice of barring non-Muslims from a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem for the final part of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that concludes next week.

The compound at Al Aqsa Mosque, known to Jews as Temple Mount, has been at the heart of recent tensions in the region. If the Israeli government allows non-Muslims to enter the compound during the final 10 days of Ramadan, critics fear that it will lead to further clashes among Muslims, Jews and the Israeli police, prompting more rocket fire from Lebanon and Gaza.

Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press

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