JERUSALEM — Israel’s incoming defense minister once called for bombing Egypt, suggested just weeks ago that Israel kill Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip and opposed the prosecution of a soldier accused of killing a wounded Palestinian. These are just a few of the positions that could put former bar bouncer Avigdor Lieberman at odds with the military he now commands.

While people close to Lieberman insist he is a pragmatist, his long history of incendiary statements bodes poorly for him as he takes over one of the region’s most sensitive posts. As Israel’s defense minister, he will be responsible for overseeing military policy and handling delicate security matters with international allies whom he has antagonized in the past.

Lieberman has held a number of senior Cabinet posts, including stints in the inner Security Cabinet, but he has little military experience, reaching the low rank of corporal during a brief military career decades ago. In contrast, his predecessor, Moshe Yaalon, was a former military chief of staff.

“We cannot take risks with defense,” former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, an elder statesman of the ruling Likud party, told the Ynet website after Lieberman’s upcoming appointment was disclosed last week. “It is a great mistake.”

Former minister Benny Begin, son of Israel’s first right-wing prime minister, called the appointment “bizarre.”

Lieberman, a 57-year-old immigrant from the former Soviet republic of Moldova, entered politics in the 1990s and is one of the country’s most polarizing politicians.


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