Tensions spike in Israel war cabinet as war on Gaza rages

AFP , Thursday 7 Mar 2024

Israel's war cabinet has been shaken by political rivalry between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and centrist Benny Gantz with the war on Gaza entering its sixth month, analysts say.

Israel war cabinet
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel s prime minister, and senior cabinet colleague Benny Gantz. AFP


A former military chief and ex-defence minister, Gantz visited Washington Monday before heading to London on Wednesday for high-level talks in a trip which was not authorised by Netanyahu.

It served to highlight the deep divisions between the two men as international pressure mounts on Israel over its siege and war on Gaza which has killed more than 30,000 people and reduced most of the Palestinian territory to rubble.

Gantz's visit to the United States shows that "his level of trust in Netanyahu is very low," said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank.

It demonstrates he wanted to present an alternative view to Washington, he added.

Gantz, who left the political opposition to join the war cabinet has been at odds with Netanyahu on how to win the release of captives and draw up an exit strategy from the brutal war on the Palestinian territory.

But his trip to Washington has raised attention in Israel, and drew strong criticism from ministers of Netanyahu's right-wing party Likud.

"It looks like some kind of subversion," said Transport Minister Miri Regev, adding Gantz is "working behind the prime minister's back."

Dudi Amsalem, Israel's regional cooperation minister and Netanyahu ally, said that Gantz had joined the wartime government "to create unity in an emergency, not to be a Trojan horse".

'Hate each other'

"Tensions were always there," between these "two people who hate each other," said Reuven Hazan, a political science professor at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.

Five members make up the war cabinet, with Netanyahu, Gantz and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant seen as the main players.

Hazan said Gantz travelled to Washington and London in a bid to demonstrate that he has the right profile to be a potential future prime minister.

He met with US Vice President Kamala Harris a day after she delivered some of the most stinging US criticism of Israel since the war began calling for an "immediate ceasefire".

She also voiced the US administration's concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and "urged Israel to take additional measures" to increase the flow of aid.

UN agencies have also warned of the growing threat of famine as Israel's relentless bombardment and siege of Gaza has made it impossible to deliver aid into the war-torn strip.

US President Joe Biden and Netanyahu are in an "open conflict" as the White House presses the Israeli leader not to "continue with a massive civilian casualties in Gaza" and "without knowing what to do the day after" the war, said Hazan.

Gantz 'comfortable counterpart'

"Gantz is not where Netanyahu is, he is closer to the American position" on the war's aftermath, said Hazan.

He's a "more comfortable counterpart" for Washington, "is more open to dialogue with moderate partners in the region" and over the role that the Palestinian Authority could play in Gaza after the war, Plesner added.

Last week Gantz applauded Gallant's proposal to reform military service in order to include ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are currently exempted for religious reasons.

But the announcement shook Israeli politics to its core and was perceived in some Israeli media as a challenge from Gallant to Netanyahu, with both belonging to the same party.

The proposal was a political bombshell and forces the prime minister into a tight corner, as the two main parties representing ultra-Orthodox Jews could topple his precarious coalition at any moment.

Netanyahu is working on "avoiding an early election" that would benefit Gantz at any cost, said Plesner.

Recent polls suggest that if there is an election, Gantz's party will win the largest number of seats.

"If there is one issue that might get out of hand and lead to a collapse of the coalition (it) is the issue of recruitment of ultra-Orthodox", Plesner said.

Gantz has to time his exit from the government in a way that makes Israelis feel he is "looking out for Israel's interests" and create a perception that "Netanyahu is only looking at his personal interests," said Hazan.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

Short link: