Israel war cabinet split looms as defence minister demands plan for post-war Gaza

israel war cabinet split looms as defence minister demands plan for post-war gaza

Yoav Gallant visiting an IDF position along the border with the Gaza Strip near Rafah. Photograph: Israeli Army/AFP/Getty Images

A long-festering split at the heart of Israel’s war cabinet has burst into the open with the defence minister, Yoav Gallant, challenging the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to come up with plans for the “day after” the war in Gaza, and saying he would not permit any solution that saw Israeli military or civil governance in the territory.

Gallant’s comments – immediately backed by his fellow minister Benny Gantz – plunged Israel’s leadership into a highly public row, in the midst of the Gaza conflict, raising immediate speculation over his future in the Israeli government and of Netanyahu’s fractious coalition.

In uncompromising remarks, Gallant – whose firing last year by Netanyahu triggered mass protests, a political crisis and an eventual reversal by the PM – publicly demanded that Netanyahu describe plans for a “day-after plan” for Gaza.

Gallant’s comments provoked an immediate political row, with Netanyahu pushing back rapidly with a videotaped statement and a call from the far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir for Gallant to be replaced.

Gallant was backed, however by his fellow senior minister Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces who said Gallant had spoken the “truth”.

Gallant said at a press conference on Wednesday evening in Tel Aviv that he asked for an alternative governing body to Hamas to be found, and did not receive a response.

In his remarks at a televised press conference, Gallant criticised the lack of any political planning for so called the “day after”.

Gallant’s comments come after months of tension between the two men and recent reports in the Hebrew media that senior IDF officers had become concerned that the lack of an alternative to Hamas was forcing the IDF to return and fight in areas where they claimed Hamas had already been defeated, including northern Gaza which has seen heavy fighting this week.

“As early as October 7, the military establishment said that it was necessary to work towards finding an alternative to Hamas,” Gallant said, adding “the end of the military campaign is a political decision. The day after Hamas will only be achieved by actors who replace Hamas. This is first and foremost an Israeli interest.”

Gallant said that military planning “was not raised for a discussion, and worse, no alternative was brought in its place. A military-civilian regime in Gaza is a bad and dangerous alternative for the State of Israel.

“I will not agree to the establishment of a military government in Gaza,” he said, adding a “civilian-military regime in Gaza will become the main effort in there and come at the expense of other arenas. We will pay for it in blood and victims – and it will come at a heavy economic cost.”

The comments by Gallant appeared to be the culmination of growing frustration with Netanyahu among Israel’s military leadership.

Gallant added he would not support a controversial plan for compulsory enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Jews, appearing to throw down a direct challenge to Netanyahu to fire him.

Replying to Gallant, Netanyahu once again ruled out a Palestinian administration in Gaza while Hamas still exists, adding that Hamas’s destruction must be pursued “without excuses”.

“After the terrible massacre, I ordered the destruction of Hamas,” said Netanyahu. “IDF fighters and the security forces are fighting for this. As long as Hamas remains, no other actor will run Gaza – certainly not the Palestinian Authority.”

Ben-Gvir and the communications minister, Shlomo Karhi, quickly called for Gallant be fired from his position.

“Such a defence minister must be replaced in order to achieve the war’s goals,” said Ben-Gvir, adding: “from [Gallant’s] point of view, there is no difference between whether Gaza will be controlled by Israeli soldiers or whether Hamas murderers control it. This is the essence of the defence minister’s conception, which failed on October 7 and continues to fail even now.”

Netanyahu will be acutely aware of the huge political risks of firing Gallant for a second time, after his previous forced climbdown.

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