Report: White House fears appointment of Smotrich as Defense Minister

Biden administration reportedly concerned Netanyahu may agree to Religious Zionist Party chief’s request to be appointed Defense Minister in new government.

By World Israel News Staff

The Biden administration is concerned that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may appoint MK Bezalel Smotrich, chairman of the Religious Zionist Party and a staunch nationalist, as Israel’s next Defense Minister, Axios has reported.

Citing multiple U.S. officials, the report claimed the White House is perturbed by the possibility Smotrich, an ally of Otzma Yehudit chairman MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, could replace the current defense minister, Benny Gantz.

Smotrich, 42, previously served as Transportation Minister and is the co-founder of the Regavim organization, a watchdog group which monitors illegal construction in the Arab sector.

The right-wing lawmaker has vowed that if appointed defense minister, he will dismantle the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, the Israeli authority which governs some 60% of Judea and Samaria. It is a step he claims would be tantamount to de facto annexation of the area.

One senior U.S. official cited in the Axios report warned that the incoming Netanyahu government’s choice of defense minister could massively impact U.S.-Israel relations, even beyond security cooperation.

“The identity of the person who holds this job in the next Israeli government will have a huge influence on the bilateral relationship with the U.S. and not only when it comes to security.”

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When asked to comment on the report, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said the administration is “closely” monitoring the formation of the next Israeli government.

“We will continue to closely monitor the government formation process. As the president told Netanyahu, … we look forward to continuing to work with the Israeli government based on a bedrock of shared democratic values and mutual interests.”

A spokesperson for Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party said the party expects the U.S. not to interfere in Israeli domestic matters.

“We respect the Americans and avoid interfering in their domestic democratic and political procedures. We are sure they will act the same way.”