Benjamin Netanyahu disbands Israeli war cabinet

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dissolved his war cabinet, an Israeli official told CNN Monday, just over a week after opposition leader Benny Gantz withdrew from the body.

Decision-making will now move back to the government’s main security cabinet, the Israeli official said, claiming Netanyahu “will hold smaller forums on sensitive matters.”

The war cabinet, set up five days after the Hamas-led terrorist attacks against Israel on October 7, had five members: Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, opposition leader Benny Gantz, and two “observers,” Ron Dermer and Gadi Eisenkot.

But Gantz – seen as Netanyahu’s most formidable political opponent – announced his “complex and painful” decision to withdraw from the cabinet last week, citing Netanyahu’s failure to devise a strategy for the conflict in Gaza and the future governance of the Strip.

“Netanyahu prevents us from moving forward to a real victory [in Gaza],” Gantz said June 9.

He accused Netanyahu of putting his own personal political considerations ahead of a post-war strategy for the Gaza Strip, claiming that “fateful strategic decisions are met with hesitancy and procrastination due to political considerations,” and urged the prime minister to hold an election in the coming months.

“I call on Netanyahu: set an agreed election date. Do not let our people be torn apart,” Gantz said.

In April, Gantz called for early elections to be held as soon as September, ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war, saying “Israeli society needs to renew its contract with its leadership.” The month before, he had traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with US Vice President Kamala Harris in a trip not sanctioned by the Israeli government.

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz announces his resignation from the war cabinet on June 9. - Nir Elias/Reuters
Israeli Minister Benny Gantz announces his resignation from the war cabinet on June 9. - Nir Elias/Reuters

Gantz often surpasses the prime minister in popularity, according to opinion polls. A survey published Friday by the Israeli Maariv newspaper showed support for Gantz at 42%, compared to 34% for Netanyahu.

Gantz’s resignation sparked calls from far-right members in Netanyahu’s governing coalition, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, to join the war cabinet. Both men were earlier pointedly excluded from the cabinet at Gantz’s behest.

By dismantling the cabinet, Netanyahu may have avoided having to accede to Ben-Gvir’s calls to join the cabinet, which could have further strained Israel’s relations with the United States, or having to reject his demands, which could have angered the more extreme wing of Netanyahu’s coalition.

Another interpretation is that without Gantz – and Eisenkot who also resigned – in it, there was no longer any point in keeping the war cabinet going. Instead, an Israeli official tells CNN, Netanyahu will in future hold smaller forums to discuss sensitive matters relating to the war with Hamas. It’s unclear whether Ben-Gvir will be excluded from these as well.

As National Security Minister, Ben-Gvir attends Israel’s security cabinet alongside 12 other ministers, including Smotrich, Gallant and Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

Both Ben-Gvir and Smotrich have urged that Israel sustain its assault on Gaza until Hamas is defeated completely, and threatened to topple Netanyahu’s government if he accepts a peace proposal that was first publicly announced by US President Joe Biden last month.

After the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Saturday announced a daily “tactical pause” of military activity along a route in southern Gaza to allow aid to be distributed, Ben-Gvir condemned the decision.

“Whoever decided on a ‘tactical pause’ for the purpose of a humanitarian transition, especially at a time when the best of our soldiers are falling in battle, is evil and a fool who should not continue to be in his position,” he said.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Monday the dissolution of the war cabinet did not change the Biden administration’s “fundamental assessment” of the war in Gaza, saying “We’ll continue to have very direct and candid conversations” with “whatever government is in place.”

He added that the US “very much” welcomed the announcement of the “tactical pause” – but said the US would judge Israel “by the results.”

“It’s not just a question of humanitarian pauses, it’s to the question of how much aid gets delivered. The pause ultimately is only a means to an end,” he said.

Aid groups are saying that no difference has yet been seen on the ground.

Additional reporting by Michael Conte and Jennifer Hansler.

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