Israel's defense minister officially submitted his resignation yesterday, leaving the government with the narrowest of parliamentary majorities and paving what looks like a clear path to early elections.
Avigdor Lieberman dispatched a once-sentence letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, informing him of his decision to step down. The move, which takes effect in 48 hours, leaves Netanyahu with the support of just 61 out of 120 lawmakers.
His resignation came after an Egypt-brokered cease-fire deal reached between Hamas. The hard-liner had demanded a far harsher Israeli response to the widest wave of Gaza rocket fire against Israel since a 50-day war in 2014, but was overruled by Netanyahu. Hamas said the resignation of Israel's defense minister after a two-day bout of heavy fighting is a "political victory for Gaza." Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Lieberman's resignation marked "recognition of defeat and failure to confront the Palestinian resistance." He said "Gaza's steadfastness sent a political shockwave" through Israel.
With other coalition partners also flexing their muscles and the opposition parties demanding an early election, the days of Netanyahu's current government seem to be numbered.
The move immediately set off furious political jockeying, with insiders predicting it marked the opening salvo of a new political campaign. Parliamentary elections are schedule for a year from now but Israeli governments rarely serve out their full terms. The last time that happened was in 1988. Since then, elections have almost always been moved up because of a coalition crisis or a strategic move by the prime minister to maximize his chances of re-election.
Netanyahu's fiercest coalition rival, Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, was the first to pounce, threatening to leave the coalition too if he wasn't appointed defense minister in Lieberman's place. That, however, appeared unlikely given the bad blood between the two and the overall shaky nature of such a slim coalition.
The government also faces a looming Supreme Court-dictated deadline to pass a contentious new law mandating the military draft of ultra-Orthodox men. It has deeply divided the coalition and threatened to break it up even before Lieberman bolted.