Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be making his third to Russia since September, this one coming as the two nations mark 25 years since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations
Jerusalem (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet voted Monday to expand his coalition and appoint hardliner Avigdor Lieberman as defence minister, bringing weeks of political intrigue -- and outrage -- towards a close.
Netanyahu, accused of setting his government on a far-right course, was forced to resolve a last-minute dispute with another party in his coalition to see the move through.
Parliament was expected later Monday to approve the appointment of Lieberman, a former foreign minister and ultra-nationalist who has pledged harsh measures against Palestinian "terrorists".
His Yisrael Beitenu party adds five lawmakers to Netanyahu's previous one-seat majority in parliament, giving him 66 out of 120 seats.
Both Netanyahu and Lieberman have sought to ease concerns over his appointment as defence minister, a key position in a country on a near-constant war footing.
One example of Lieberman's provocative style came recently in comments directed at Ismail Haniya, Islamist movement Hamas's leader in the Gaza Strip.
Lieberman said he would give Haniya 48 hours to hand over two detained Israeli civilians and the bodies of soldiers killed in a 2014 war "or you're dead".
Netanyahu said on Monday that "we will continue with a responsible and assertive security policy... and at the same time, will look for paths to peace, especially through regional developments, which we not only recognise but are also involved in."
- 'Legitimate questions' -
The deal for Lieberman's party to enter the coalition was struck last week, putting Israel on a path to form what has been called the most right-wing government in its history.
Netanyahu's moves have drawn concern both inside Israel and abroad.
The United States has said the new coalition raises "legitimate questions" about the commitment of Netanyahu's government to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
In the wake of the agreement, environment minister Avi Gabbay of the centre-right Kulanu party announced his resignation, saying: "I do not think it is right... to form an extremist government."
Before that, Lieberman's predecessor Moshe Yaalon, from Netanyahu's Likud, warned of a rising tide of extremism in the party and Israel as a whole when he resigned as defence minister on May 20.
However, Netanyahu's troubles also went beyond such criticism, with the vote to expand his coalition opening up previous fissures in his government.
The religious nationalist party Jewish Home planned to block the addition of Lieberman's party by voting against it in parliament, possibly sparking fresh elections, unless demands for procedural reform were met.
Jewish Home holds eight parliamentary seats, enough to block Netanyahu's new line-up.
Netanyahu and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett reached a compromise on Sunday night.
It had demanded the creation of a military liaison position in the government's security cabinet, a smaller forum of cabinet members which decides on matters of national security.
Bennett says such a post is needed to avoid security cabinet members being kept in the dark about important developments, pointing to aspects of the 2014 conflict with Palestinian militants in Gaza, among other concerns.
- Political rival's demand -
Under the compromise brokered by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism alliance of ultra-Orthodox parties, security cabinet members will receive frequent personal briefings from the National Security Council as an interim measure as a committee of experts looks at ways to improve procedure.
While some analysts say such a change is needed, Bennett's demand is also seen as political manoeuvring ahead of the next general election, which is due by 2019 at the latest.
Bennett is widely seen as aspiring to replace Netanyahu, whose Likud party is currently the largest in parliament.
Also as part of the coalition changes, Yisrael Beitenu's Sofa Landver was approved as minister of immigrant absorption by the cabinet.
Veteran MP Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee and a member of Likud, is to become a minister without portfolio.