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Lieberman sworn in as Israeli defense minister

One of his coalition partners had threatened to block the planned expansion of the alliance by voting against it in parliament

Published: Updated:

Avigdor Liberman, a lightning rod for international criticism, became Israel’s defense minister on Monday as part of a political deal that widens the base of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fractious coalition government.

Later evening, Lieberman was officially sworn in as Israeli Defense Minister in a Knesset ceremony.

Parliament approved the appointment after two weeks of political upheaval in which Netanyahu dumped Moshe Ya’alon as defense minister and embarrassed opposition chief Isaac Herzog by retracting an offer to have him steer future Israeli peacemaking as foreign minister.

Earlier, one of Netanyahu coalition partners had threatened to block the planned expansion of the alliance by voting against it in parliament, possibly sparking fresh elections, unless demands for procedural reform were met.

But a compromise between Netanyahu and his rival, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, was reached late Sunday, a Likud statement said.

The religious nationalist Jewish Home holds eight seats, enough to block Netanyahu's proposed new line-up.

Now that it was approved by parliament as expected, the deal would form what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel's history.

Jewish Home had demanded the creation of a military liaison for the government's security cabinet, a smaller forum of cabinet members which decides on matters of national security.

Bennett says such a post is needed to avoid security cabinet members being kept in the dark on important developments, pointing to aspects of the 2014 conflict with Palestinian militants in Gaza, among other concerns.

Under the compromise brokered by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, of the United Torah Judaism alliance of ultra-Orthodox parties, security cabinet members will receive frequent personal briefings from Israel's National Security Council as an interim measure, while a committee of experts looks at ways to improve procedure.

While some analysts say such a change is needed, Bennett's demand is also seen as political maneuvering ahead of the next elections, due by 2019 at the latest.

Bennett is widely seen as aspiring to replace Netanyahu, whose Likud party is currently the largest in parliament.

Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party will add five lawmakers to Netanyahu's previous razor-thin majority, giving it 66 of the 120 in parliament.

The move to hand the defense ministry to the 57-year-old hardliner has sparked deep concern among Israeli centrist and left-wing politicians, as well as among some of Netanyahu's Likud colleagues.