US 'concerned' that extremist may become Israel's defence minister following Netanyahu win
US officials have expressed concern that Israel's next defence minister may be from the far-right extremist Religious Zionism party, the American news website Axios reported on Wednesday.
Axios said the Biden administration was keeping a close eye on the issue, because of the power attached to the position.
The Israeli defence minister is responsible not only for the Israeli military and its budget, but also for policy towards Palestinians in the West Bank, security ties with the Palestinian Authority, approval of new construction in illegal settlements, and handling settler attacks on Palestinians.
Israel is currently engaged in a deadly assault on Palestinian cities in the West Bank which has killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians.
A right-wing coalition led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won Israeli elections earlier this month.
The coalition includes both Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Religious Zionism movement, both of whom have expressed violent racism against Palestinians.
There is particular concern that Smotrich will be given the post of defence minister. The far-right leader has called for building more settlements, annexing parts of the West Bank, and escalating violence against Palestinians.
He previously said that Israel's founding Prime Minister David Ben Gurion should have "finished the job" and expelled all Palestinians from their homes when Israel was established on Palestinian land in 1948.
Smotrich has also called for segregating Palestinian and Jewish women on maternity wards in hospitals.
When he visited the UK in February 2022, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, a pro-Israel group, branded him a "disgrace" and said that he was "not wanted" due to his extreme views.
Axios reported that if Smotrich is given the defence portfolio, he will shut down the Israeli COGAT civilian administration in the West Bank and transfer its role to Israeli government ministries. This would amount to a de facto annexation.