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New Israeli defense minister eyes all occupied territories

JERUSALEM: Israel’s new Defense Minister Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon is a military veteran and staunch rightwinger known for his support of the Jewish settler movement, but who has taken a more moderate stance on Iran.
Through a long military career, Yaalon burnished his image as a hard-liner who backs the idea of a Greater Israel encompassing all of the occupied Palestinian territories.
He made a name for himself by opposing Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and has spoken out forcefully against any freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.
But while scornful of Palestinian statehood aspirations, the bespectacled 62-year-old has shown signs of caution over committing the military to combat, including plans for a recent ground operation in Gaza.
Yaalon made no secret of his ambition to become defense minister since joining the rightwing Likud and entering politics in November 2008.
Shortly after becoming chief of staff in 2002, he described the Palestinian uprising as a “cancer” and said he was applying “chemotherapy.” He has referred to Israel’s Peace Now settlement watchdog as a “virus” and his overt support for the settlements has sometimes embarrassed the government.
“I, for one, a.m. not afraid of the Americans. There are issues on which one should say ‘that’s enough’,” he said, insisting that Jews have a rightful claim to all of the Land of Israel — a term which includes the Palestinian territories.
“I believe that Jews have the right to live anywhere in the Land of Israel for ever,” he said.
As defense minister, Yaalon will enjoy huge power to advance the settler movement, with both new construction and the dismantling of existing outposts unauthorized by the government falling under his authority.
“We are very much concerned about the prospect of him as defense minister,” Peace Now’s Hagit Oran told AFP.
“The role of the minister of defense is crucial for settlement issues because every step must be approved by the minister and often can be done without the knowledge of other people in government,” she said.
But from a military perspective, Yaalon has demonstrated caution.
Born in 1950 in the northern port city of Haifa, Yaalon performed his compulsory military service between 1968 and 1971, returning to active duty as a paratrooper during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
After serving in an elite commando unit in the 1970s and 80s, Yaalon became military intelligence chief in the mid-1990s, then head of the army’s central command with responsibility for the West Bank, before being named chief of staff.
Yaalon headed the military for three years, but following his opposition to the Gaza pullout in 2005, his appointment was not extended for the usual fourth year.
He is married with three children.

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