JERUSALEM — Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli hard-liner who was named defense minister on Wednesday, recently issued a typically blunt ultimatum to Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza.
“If I were defense minister,” Mr. Lieberman told an audience last month in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, “I would give Mr. Haniya 48 hours.”
“Either you return the bodies and the civilians,” he warned, referring to two Israeli men and the remains of two soldiers Hamas is holding in the Palestinian coastal enclave, “or you are dead. From my point of view, simply reserve yourself a plot in the nearest cemetery.”
Becoming defense minister was Mr. Lieberman’s main condition for a deal that augments Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition by adding Mr. Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu. The move increases the government’s number of seats to 66, from a precarious 61, in the 120-seat Parliament. The addition of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu also buttresses the hawkish image of a government already dominated by right-wing and religious parties.