JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister on Tuesday named former internal security minister Avi Dichter as new home front defense minister, amid growing speculation about a potential Israeli attack on Iran.
“Today, I decided to appoint Knesset member Avi Dichter to serve as the minister for home front defense,” Benjamin Netanyahu said at a ceremony welcoming new immigrants to Israel.
“He has many virtues and he is now charged with a very important mission: to continue doing what he has been doing his whole life — contributing to the security of the country.”
Dichter, also a former head of the country’s internal intelligence agency, Shin Bet, will have to leave his position in the opposition Kadima party to join the government.
The post has reportedly been turned down by a slew of other top officials. Dichter, whose nomination will be voted on by the parliament on Thursday, according to local media, will replace Matan Vilnai, a confidant of Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who left the post to become ambassador to China.
He will take on the task of ensuring Israel’s home front defense at a time of growing speculation about the possibility of an Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear program.
Such an attack could spark multi-front retaliation against the Jewish state, including from militant groups in Gaza and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Observers in the Jewish state have raised questions in recent weeks about Israel’s home front preparedness, and earlier this year an Israeli lawmaker told AFP that the country was “completely unprepared” for the consequences of a war, citing a lack of bomb shelters and gas masks.
Asked about his position on an Israeli strike against Iran, Dichter has said that the Jewish state “must have attack capabilities.”
Reports suggest that the majority of Israel’s defense and intelligence establishment do not favor an attack on Iran’s nuclear program, which much of the international community fears masks a weapons drive — a claim vehemently denied by Tehran.
There is concern in Washington that a unilateral Israeli strike may not destroy Iran’s underground nuclear facilities, could spark Iranian retaliation worldwide and may drag the U.S. into another war in the Middle East.
The tension in Israel rose another notch on Sunday, when the government began testing an SMS system to warn the public of any missile attack. Israel is widely suspected to have the region’s sole, if undeclared, nuclear arsenal.