Netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

  • Former Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz quit the cabinet on June 9

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning dissolved the influential War Cabinet tasked with steering Israel's ongoing conflict with Hamas in Gaza, officials said this morning.

The move comes days after Benny Gantz, a former Israeli defence minister and military chief, announced he was resigning his post over frustrations surrounding the Israeli leader's handling of the war.

Gantz's absence from the government makes Netanyahu more dependent on his ultranationalist allies to govern - a shift that the dissolution of the War Cabinet further highlights as the eight-month-long war in Gaza drags on.

The Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the change with the media, said Netanyahu will now hold smaller forums with some government members for sensitive issues surrounding the war.

That includes his security Cabinet, where far-right governing partners who oppose cease-fire deals and have voiced support for reoccupying Gaza, are members.

The disbanding of the War Cabinet also comes just one day after the IDF announced it would go ahead with plans to hold a daily 'tactical pause' in fighting in southern Gaza to allow in humanitarian aid for millions of Palestinians - a move described as 'crazy and delusional' by hardline Internal Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning dissolved the influential War Cabinet tasked with steering Israel's ongoing conflict with Hamas in Gaza

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

A man walks past buildings destroyed during the Israeli bombardment of Khan Yunis on June 11

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Residents of an area in Gaza's western Khan Younis inspect the rubble in the aftermath of an airstrike

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Destruction in southern Gaza is seen following an Israeli airstrike

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz addresses the media after his ultimatum to withdraw his centrist party from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's emergency government expired, in Ramat Gan, Israel June 9, 2024

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Israeli soldiers ride in an army vehicle along the border with the Gaza Strip on June 10, 2024

The War Cabinet was formed in the early days of the war, when Gantz, then an opposition party leader and Netanyahu rival, joined the coalition in a show of unity following the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel.

He had demanded that a small decision-making body steer the war, in a bid to sideline far-right members of Netanyahu's government.

It was made up of three members - Gantz, Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant - and together they made important decisions throughout the course of the war.

Gantz's departure, while not posing a direct threat to Netanyahu's rule, rocked Israeli politics.

The popular former military chief was seen as a statesman who boosted Israel's credibility with its international partners at a time when Israel finds itself at its most isolated. Gantz is now an opposition party leader in parliament.

Meanwhile, the move to scrap the War Cabinet comes as Israel faces yet more pivotal decisions.

Israel and Hamas are weighing the latest proposal for a cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages taken by Hamas during its attack.

Israeli troops are still bogged down in the Gaza Strip, fighting in the southern city of Rafah and against pockets of Hamas resurgence elsewhere.

And violence continues unabated between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group - with a Biden administration envoy in the region in a bid to avert a wider war on a second front.

Netanyahu has played a balancing act throughout the war between pressures from Israel's top ally, the US, and the growing global opposition to the war and from his government partners, chief among them Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

The latter, a staunchly far-right member of the Israeli government, argued the IDF plan to hold 'tactical pauses' in fighting for humanitarian aid in Gaza was 'delusional' and would risk undoing the 'achievements' of the war so far.

Ben-Gvir derided 'whoever made this decision' as 'evil' and 'a fool who should not remain in his position'.

'It's time to get out of the [outdated pre-October 7 security] concept and stop the crazy and delusional approach that only brings us more dead and fallen,' he said in a statement today.

The humanitarian pauses, set to occur daily between 8am and 7pm local time, offer some respite to the beleaguered civilian population in Gaza unseen since the negotiation of a temporary ceasefire in November as aid groups warn of impending famine.

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Thousands holding banners gather during a demonstration to demand a hostage swap deal and the dismissal of Netanyahu's government, in Tel Aviv, on June 15

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

A woman uses a megaphone as people attend a demonstration against Netanyahu in Tel Aviv

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

A Palestinian girl with her knees in bandages hold a piece of dough to her chest as she walks along a street in Deir al-Balah, on June 13

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

A man carries an injured child following Israeli bombardment at al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on June 16

The IDF said this weekend that it would cease 'military activity' in Gaza for 'humanitarian purposes' for 11 hours (5am to 4pm GMT) every day 'until further notice' along the road connecting the Kerem Shalom Crossing to the Salah al-Din Road 'and then northwards'.

It later clarified this did not extend to a pause in the fighting in the wider southern Gaza Strip, adding that 'the fighting in Rafah continues'.

Far-right ministers, including Ben-Gvir, warned that the decision could allow Hamas to regroup and risked undermining the war effort so far.

'The manner in which the humanitarian effort in the Gaza Strip is being managed, in the framework of which aid goes largely to Hamas and helps it to retain civilian control of the Strip in direct contradiction to the goals of the war, has been bad throughout the last few months,' claimed Finance Minister Bezalel Smortrich following the announcement.

He said he had repeatedly warned that the delivery of such aid was 'one of the reasons for the continuation of the war and the resounding strategic failure'.

Ben-Gvir complained he had been left out of the decision-making process by Netanyahu.

'Unfortunately, this move was not brought before the cabinet and is contrary to its decisions,' he said in a statement.

Divisions continue to deepen within the broad coalition of government as the war rages on and Israel's conduct in Gaza is scrutinised from different angles.

Both Ben-Gvir and Smotrich have threatened to bring down the coalition if Netanyahu ends the war, on advice of Israel's allies.

Meanwhile former defence minister Gantz, representing a more centrist position, quit the wartime unity government 'with a heavy heart' on July 9 after months of clashes with Netanyahu and other ministers.

'Unfortunately, Mr Netanyahu is preventing us from approaching true victory, which is the justification for the painful ongoing crisis,' he said during a news conference.

The decision marked a potentially significant blow, with the former deputy prime minister seen as a balance to the far-right in the Israeli cabinet.

With Gantz gone, Netanyahu may rely more on support from ultra-nationalist parties at odds with Israel's biggest foreign partner in the United States.

Washington continues to mount pressure on Israel to find a route to a permanent ceasefire as protests nationwide draw focus to the civilian loss of life and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Palestinian enclave claims at least 37,337 people have been killed since Israel entered Gaza in retaliation for Hamas' October 7 attacks.

Humanitarian groups have warned that the vast majority of the 2.3 million population faces famine more than 250 days in the war, with access to aid hindered by the conflict.

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Ben-Gvir arrives at Jerusalem's Old City during the annual Jerusalem Day march, amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, in Jerusalem, June 5

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Israeli military armoured vehicles roll in an area bordering the Gaza Strip on June 9

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Palestinians watch smoke billowing following an Israeli airstrike in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on June 6

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

A Palestinian man carries water past destroyed buildings in Khan Yunis on June 11

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Palestinians ride in the back of a loaded truck moving past tents of displaced people in Rafah, June 14

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

A Palestinian girl watches as others check a UN-school housing displaced people hit during Israeli bombardment in Nuseirat, on June 6

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Palestinian children wait in line to get food for their families, distributed by charitable organizations in Rafah, Gaza on February 16

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Bezalel Smotrich arrives at the annual Jerusalem Day march on June 5

The announcement of regular pauses in the fighting was welcomed by the UN, although 'this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need', said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the OCHA agency.

He called for 'further concrete measures by Israel to address longstanding issues' on aid needs.

Laerke said Gazans 'urgently need food, water, sanitation, shelter, and health care, with many living near piles of solid waste, heightening health risks'.

'We need to be able to deliver aid safely throughout Gaza,' he added.

The UN and aid groups have repeatedly voiced alarm over shortages of food and other essentials in the Gaza Strip.

This has been exacerbated by overland access restrictions and the closure of the key Rafah crossing with Egypt since Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side in early May.

The US has sought to soften the impact by building a $320mn pier on the Mediterranean coast in May, allowing aid to flow more easily into the Strip.

But earlier this week, the UN said it would stop delivering the incoming aid to starving Palestinians until it could determine whether routes were safe for staff.

The UN cited a recent operation by Israeli security forces that saw the rescue of four hostages and killed more than 270 Palestinians on June 8.

The Israeli rescuers fled from the raid towards the pier on the coast, where an Israeli helicopter picked them up, according to the US and Israeli militaries.

The UN said the use of the pier caused doubt about whether they could continue working on the project without violating core humanitarian principles of neutrality and independence, and without risking aid workers being seen as allies to the US or Israel.

Such a perception could appear to make UN staff targets in their own right.

Israel and the US deny that the pier was used in the raid, claiming an area nearby was used instead.

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

A Royal Jordanian Air Force C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft drops humanitarian aid on Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on June 4

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

The American-built Trident Pier in May 29 (top) and on May 26 (bottom). The Pentagon suspended aid deliveries on May 28 after the pier was damaged by bad weather

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Soldiers attend the funeral of Israeli soldier Staff sergeant Stanislav Kostarev, who was killed amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza, on June 16

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Orly Efraim reacts near the marker of her niece Eden Liza Auhaion, who was killed on the October 7 Hamas deadly attack at the Nova music festival on April 7, 2024 in Re'im, Israel

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Family members visit the memorial site for victims killed during the Nova music festival

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Israeli soldiers inspect the burnt cars of festival-goers at the site of an attack on the Nova Festival by Hamas gunmen from Gaza, October 13, 2023

Adding to the troubles, US officials said on Friday that the pier had been detached to avoid it breaking apart in rough seas as it did in bad weather last month.

Aid groups continue to face difficulty getting essential supplies into Gaza with the war still raging.

Saleem (not his real name), an aid worker with global NGO Mercy Corps in Rafah, said: 'There's a genuine concern for a repeat of the famine scenario seen in the north. Additionally, we anticipate similar repercussions, such as the collapse of the health system and its subsequent challenges.

'The north has already endured health and environmental disasters, where even moderate infections resulted in fatalities. It's worth noting that the hospitals in the north are more extensive and better equipped in terms of staff and resources.

'Should the invasion of Rafah persist without a ceasefire, the upcoming period will be marked by immense difficulty and tragedy. Expect to receive grim and distressing news and images from Rafah, surpassing the severity of what transpired in the north.'

Earlier this month, Oxfam reported harrowing conditions across the Palestinian enclave.

In Al Mawasi, a region in the south filled with refugees, 'there are just 121 latrines for over 500,000 people', the British NGO warned.

Shortages have reportedly seen people paying up to $700 for 'the most basic tents... and there is so little space left that some have been forced to set up tents in the cemetery at Deir al-Balah'.

Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam's Middle East and North Africa Director, said: 'Israel claimed weeks ago that they would provide full humanitarian support and medical assistance to civilians it had told to move.

'Not only is this not happening, its ongoing impunity, bombardment and deliberate obstruction have created unprecedented and impossibly dangerous conditions for humanitarian agencies to operate.'

While the 'tactical pause' has brought 'near calm' to the Strip, according to Mahmud Basal, spokesman for the civil defence agency in Gaza, Palestinians marked Eid al-Adha without the usual holiday spirit.

'This Eid is completely different,' said Umm Muhammad al-Katri in northern Gaza's Jabalia refugee camp.

'We've lost many people. There's a lot of destruction. We don't have the joy we usually have,' she told AFP. Instead, 'I came to the Eid prayers mourning. I've lost my son.'

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Protesters use smoke torches during a demonstration calling for an hostages deal on June 15

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

The protesters in Tel Aviv rallied against Benjamin Netanyahu and his government

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

A drone view shows a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and a call for the release of hostages, in Tel Aviv on Saturday

netanyahu dissolves his powerful war cabinet after key member quit

Police officers arrest protesters during a demonstration calling for an hostages deal

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas following the Palestinian group's unprecedented October 7 attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Hamas also seized some 250 hostages in their rampage through southern Israel. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel continues to face significant protests at home from hostage supporters demanding a ceasefire before any more die or are killed.

Thousands attended a rally last night in Tel Aviv to demand the government back a deal to end the war and release the remaining captives as one of the four hostages freed on June 8 called on the public to join.

Andrey Kozlov, who spent 245 days in Gaza after his abduction, said the rallies gave him 'a lot of hope' on Friday.

Israel and Hamas have not been able to agree terms to a permanent ceasefire despite mediation efforts from the US, Qatar and Egypt.

Both sides blame each other for the lack of progress.

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