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Gallant tries to force Netanyahu’s hand on Gaza; it probably won’t work

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant lit the fuse Wednesday evening when he gave a public speech accusing the government of mishandling the war. However, the charge had been building up for months.

The defense minister, who was memorably fired (albeit briefly) in March 2023 for warning that divisions over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform plans posed a tangible threat to Israel’s security, visibly felt that he could no longer allow the political maneuvers of the Prime Minister. .

This time, Gallant called on Netanyahu to make decisions, and highlighted three in particular, of national and even historical importance, that the prime minister failed to make.

First: Does Netanyahu want a short war or a long war? This issue was at the heart of the Defense Minister’s unequivocal demand that the government discuss and decide on an alternative to Hamas in Gaza, which would inevitably hasten the end of the major fighting and provide some direction to the Israeli military.

IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari suggested as much in comments he made at a press conference Tuesday that amounted to veiled criticism of Netanyahu.

Gallant knows that this inertia of Israeli leaders, without decision, leaves the Israeli army stranded in Gaza and strengthens Hamas, at an unacceptable cost. It looks more and more like those wars in Lebanon, where days followed one another without any plan, costing the lives of the soldiers.

It may even have been the terrible losses of recent days, including the friendly fire incident in Jabaliya on Wednesday in which five soldiers were killed, that prompted Gallant to deliver his speech, which at times sounded like an ultimatum addressed to Netanyahu.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant makes a statement to the press at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The prospect of an IDF government in Gaza

Second: Gallant demanded that Netanyahu publicly state that he opposes Israeli military and civilian governance in the post-Hamas Gaza Strip. In other words, he insisted that the Prime Minister tell the country and the world, as unprecedented, that he will not continue the occupation of Gaza and the management of civil problems in the same way as the system of Military governance functioned in the territories after the Six-Day War.

Gallant does not want to drag Israel into the same quagmire it is stuck in in the West Bank, in a situation where it rules over millions of hostile Palestinians in Gaza. This is a terrible scenario that could destroy the state, in the short or long term.

Twenty years ago, Gallant was a military advisor to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Gallant had already understood then that there was no future in maintaining the presence of a few thousand Israeli settlers in the midst of the immense Palestinian population of Gaza. In 2005, Sharon oversaw the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

And although he didn’t say it explicitly, Gallant is not opposed to the Palestinian Authority playing a role in managing the Gaza Strip after the war. (The defense minister cited unspecified “Palestinian entities,” which he said should govern with the support of “international actors.” Netanyahu, in response to Gallant’s speech, jumped on this position, declaring that as prime minister, he “will not replace Hamastan with Fatahstan.” A Palestinian state would be, as Netanyahu presents it, a recreation of Hamas.

There could have been a legitimate and substantive debate about how to leave Gaza. But the strained relations between the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense, as well as their mutual suspicion of each other, turned this situation into a personal conflict, a much more difficult situation.

We should also pay attention to the final words Netanyahu used in a response video he released immediately after Gallant’s speech. “There is no excuse,” the Prime Minister said. As Netanyahu says, Gallant and other cowardly critics are essentially looking for an excuse to leave Gaza without first destroying Hamas.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir calls for “voluntary emigration” of Palestinians from Gaza and resettlement of Gaza by Israel during a march and rally in the town of Sderot, near the border with Gaza, May 14, 2024. (Credit: Office of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir)

A fragile coalition

The third decision that Gallant asked Netanyahu concerns the future of the government: whose side are you on, the defense minister essentially asked? Will you stand with me, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, or will you stand with far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir? This was the subtext of his call to “put the national interest above all other interests, even if this requires paying personal or political costs.”

A decision by Netanyahu to hand governance of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority would mean a confrontation with Smotrich and Ben Gvir, the latter of whom addressed a large crowd of settlers in Sderot on Independence Day earlier this week and called for immediate release. settlement of all parts of the Gaza Strip.

Any operational decision by Netanyahu to completely withdraw from Gaza would inevitably lead to the far-right ministerial parties, Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit, leaving the coalition. This threat hangs over Netanyahu’s head. For now, he’s with them, whether he likes it or not.

Ben Gvir and Smotrich demanded this week that Netanyahu fire Gallant. Sources within Likud who identify with the settlements called the defense minister a “Trojan horse.”

But Netanyahu cannot fire Gallant. Netanyahu is no longer as strong as he was when he fired previous defense ministers Yitzhak Mordechai and Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon. Here too, he has no choice; for the moment he will have to endure this revolt.

Meanwhile, it appears that other Likud leaders are sensing weakness and are beginning to take heart.

Minister Nir Barkat said at a government meeting this week some of what he always says behind closed doors, namely Netanyahu’s absolute responsibility for the failure of October 7 and the endless hesitations in Gaza.

Yuli Edelstein, who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said the committee would only pass truly powerful legislation to recruit the ultra-Orthodox, not the bluff of a bill advanced Thursday by the ministerial committee on legislation.

The key question is whether we are seeing a real erosion of Netanyahu’s position within Likud. So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Gallant, Barkat and Edelstein are rivals and each plays their own game. Netanyahu can handle them and everyone else in the party.

If Likud were to fall further in the polls, towards 15 mandates or less, it would be a different story.

This article is translated from the original Hebrew on Zman Yisrael, the sister site of the Times of Israel in Hebrew.

News Source : www.timesofisrael.com
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