Telegraph: Benjamin Netanyahu faced an urgent threat to his political future on Monday after his most powerful ally announced he was ending their political partnership over a row on how to respond to rocket attacks from Gaza.
Avigdor Lieberman, the combative Israeli foreign minister, decided to dissolve the pact that had existed between his own Yisrael Beiteinu party and the prime minister’s Likud party for the past two years, local media reported.
The decision followed an angry confrontation between the pair at Sunday’s cabinet meeting at which the prime minister accused Mr Lieberman and others of branding him as soft on Gaza “for political ends”.
At a news conference on Monday, Mr Lieberman saie he and his party would remain in the coalition but that he had "fundamental disagreements" with Mr Netanyahu.
"Disagreements between the prime minister and me are fundamental and do not allow for a future partnership," Mr Lieberman said. "The partnership did not work during the elections, it did not work after the elections and to this day there were quite a few technical issues. When technical issues turn to fundamental ones there is no point in continuing."
The pair were coalition partners even before Mr Lieberman brought his mainly Russian immigrant-backed party under the Likud umbrella in 2012 in a move that failed to deliver the desired electoral boon at a subsequent general election, when the newly-formed bloc lost seats.
But the foreign minister's decision to end the formal arrangement came amid fears among Mr Netanyahu’s close aides that he could be brought down in a parliamentary no-confidence vote.
Ben Caspit, an experienced political commentator for Maariv newspaper wrote that Mr Netanyahu’s inner circle feared a political situation in “which members of the Jewish Home [another coalition party], Yisrael Beiteinu or from the two parties together will suddenly be absent in the no-confidence motions that are scheduled to be voted on today in the Knesset”.
Mr Lieberman – an uneasy ally of Mr Netanyahu who is also believed to covet his job – clashed with the prime minister after publicly reiterating his belief that Israel should stage a military takeover of Gaza in response to a recent hail of missile fire from the territory.
He has been backed by Naftali Bennett, leader of the far-Right Jewish Home party and another rival of the prime minister, who said that Israeli restraint in the face of the rocket fire “was not power”.
While Israel has met the rocket fire with raids against militant targets most nights for the past few weeks, Mr Netanyahu and Moshe Ya’alon, his defence minister, have opposed getting involved in a wider confrontation.
Talk of a new Egyptian-brokered ceasefire arrangement has not been contradicted, although a 48-hour ultimatum to Hamas to cease the rocket fire has come and gone. Nine militants, including seven Hamas members, were reported killed as Israeli jets carried out raids on Gaza targets overnight.
At the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Mr Netanyahu took aim at both men in front of the TV cameras, warning against “inflammatory and brash” rhetoric and adding: “In these moments we must be level-headed and responsible. We will do everything possible to restore calm in the south [of Israel].”
Later behind closed doors, he told the cabinet that “those who criticise me and the government over our conduct are irresponsible and doing so for political ends”.
His words provoked a sharp retort from Mr Lieberman, who accused the prime minister of “spouting slogans” over the deaths last week of three Israeli teenagers – suspected to have been killed by Palestinian militants – “without backing them up”.
The pair went on to have what Israeli media described as a full-row that could have consequences for Israel’s future political arrangements.
“You promised to deal a harsh blow on Hamas but nothing came of it and they continue to shoot at citizens,” Mr Lieberman told Mr Netanyahu.
When the prime minister accused him of making policy statements in the media while not attending cabinet meetings, the foreign minister responded: “Don’t put me on a scorecard. I was in Germany on a political visit and I immediately returned when I heard that the bodies of the kidnapped teens had been found, so I missed one cabinet meeting.”
The outbreak of riots in East Jerusalem and in Arab Israeli towns following the murder last week of Mohammed Abu Khdeir – suspected to have been killed by far-Right Jews in a revenge attack – may also have weakened Mr Netanyahu politically. Commentators have speculated that the eruption of a third Palestinian intifada [uprising] would spell the end his premiership just as the outbreak of previous rebellions brought down past governments.