Middle East

New Israeli security cabinet cut to half size

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seated, and President Shimon Peres, left, talk to the new cabinet ministers after posing for a group photo in Jerusalem Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Ronen Zvulun, Pool)

JERUSALEM: Israel's new security cabinet will include just seven ministers, down from 15 in the previous administration, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

The composition of the ministerial committee for national security issues was agreed late Monday, at the first meeting of the new cabinet which took place shortly after Netanyahu's coalition government was sworn in.

The ministerial forum, which is chaired by the prime minister, plays a key role in decisions on top diplomatic and security issues, such as Iran's nuclear programme, military operations, and relations with the Palestinians.

Ministers named as members include Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni who leads centrist HaTnuah, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett who leads the far-right Jewish Home, Home Front Defence Minister Gilad Erdan and Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.

Former foreign minister and hardline rightwing Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who stood down from his position in December while on trial for fraud and breach of trust, will join the forum if he is exonerated.

Since Lieberman's resignation, Netanyahu has served as interim foreign minister but he is holding the post open for him once the legal proceedings are over.

The new government comprises four factions: the rightwing Likud-Beitenu which fuses Netanyahu's Likud with Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu (31 seats), Yesh Atid (19 seats), Jewish Home (12 seats) and HaTnuah (six seats).

Within the security cabinet, Netanyahu will have a majority of at least four counting support from Yaalon (Likud), Erdan (Likud) and Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beitenu), while Lapid and Livni represent the centrist element.

Bennett is known as a hawk on the Palestinians but has reportedly reserved judgement on Iran until he sees all the necessary intelligence.





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