World

Israel War Cabinet member threatens to quit government unless new plan adopted

Benny Gantz’s announcement on Saturday escalates a divide within Israel’s leadership.

Benny Gantz is a member of Israel’s War Cabinet (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)
Benny Gantz is a member of Israel’s War Cabinet (Tsafrir Abayov/AP) (Aaron Chown/PA)

A member of Israel’s three-man War Cabinet has threatened to resign from the government if it does not adopt a new plan for the war in Gaza.

The move would leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more reliant on his far-right allies.

Benny Gantz’s announcement on Saturday escalates a divide within Israel’s leadership more than seven months into a war in which it has yet to accomplish its stated goals of dismantling Hamas and returning scores of hostages abducted in the October 7 attack.

Mr Gantz, a popular centrist member of Israel’s three-member War Cabinet, set out a six-point plan that includes the return of hostages, ending Hamas’s rule, demilitarising the Gaza Strip and establishing an international administration of civilian affairs.

It also supports efforts to normalise relations with Saudi Arabia and widen military service to all Israelis.

He gave a deadline of June 8.

“If you choose the path of fanatics and lead the entire nation to the abyss – we will be forced to quit the government,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu, in a statement reported by Israeli media, responded by saying Mr Gantz had chosen to issue an ultimatum to the prime minister instead of to Hamas, and called his conditions “euphemisms” for Israel’s defeat.

Mr Gantz, a longtime political rival of Mr Netanyahu, joined his coalition and the War Cabinet in the early days of the war.

The departure of the former military chief of staff and defence minister would leave Mr Netanyahu even more beholden to far-right allies who have taken a hard line on negotiations over a ceasefire and hostage release, and who believe Israel should occupy Gaza and rebuild Jewish settlements there.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP) (Gil Cohen-Magen/AP)

Mr Gantz spoke days after Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant, the third member of the War Cabinet, said he would not remain in his post if Israel elected to reoccupy Gaza. Mr Gallant also called on the government to make plans for Palestinian administration of the enclave.

In what will be seen by many as a veiled swipe at Mr Netanyahu, Mr Gantz said “personal and political considerations have begun to penetrate into the holy of holies of Israel’s security”.

Mr Netanyahu’s critics accuse the prime minister of seeking to prolong the war to avoid new elections, allegations he denies.

Polls suggest Mr Netanyahu would be replaced in elections, with Gantz the most likely candidate to be the next prime minister. That would expose Mr Netanyahu to prosecution on longstanding corruption charges.

“The people of Israel are watching you,” Mr Gantz said in the prime-time address to Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Netanyahu is under growing pressure on multiple fronts.

Hard-liners in his government want the military offensive on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah to press ahead with the goal of crushing Hamas. Top ally the US and others have warned against the offensive on a city where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million had sheltered – hundreds of thousands have now fled – and they have threatened to scale back support over Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.

The pier to help transport aid on the coast of the Gaza Strip (US Central Command via AP)
The pier to help transport aid on the coast of the Gaza Strip (US Central Command via AP) (AP)

The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will be in Saudi Arabia and Israel this weekend to discuss the war and is scheduled on Sunday to meet Mr Netanyahu, who has declared that Israel would “stand alone” if needed.

Many Israelis, anguished over the hostages and accusing Mr Netanyahu of putting political interests ahead of all else, want a deal to stop the fighting and get them freed.

There was fresh frustration on Friday when the military said its troops in Gaza found the bodies of three hostages killed by Hamas in the October 7 attack. The discovery of the body of a fourth hostage was announced on Saturday.

Thousands of Israelis again rallied on Saturday evening to demand a deal along with new elections.

The latest talks in pursuit of a ceasefire, mediated by Qatar, the US and Egypt, have brought little. A vision beyond the war is also uncertain.

Meanwhile, a new effort to deliver desperately needed aid to Gaza appeared to falter on Saturday.

Several Israeli tanks fired warning shots in an apparent attempt to clear the way for trucks ferrying food supplies on their way from a new US-built pier.

One Palestinian was killed, according to Associated Press journalists at the scene. Hundreds of Palestinians gathered around the stopped trucks and carried away boxes.

Troops in Gaza found the bodies of three hostages killed by Hamas in the October 7 attack (Hostages Families Forum Headquarters via AP)
Troops in Gaza found the bodies of three hostages killed by Hamas in the October 7 attack (Hostages Families Forum Headquarters via AP) (AP)

The war began after Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage. Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza, local health officials say, while hundreds more have been killed in the occupied West Bank.

Mr Gantz echoed Mr Netanyahu’s call for the return of scores of hostages, ending Hamas’s rule and demilitarising the territory. But he also said an international administration should be set up there, apparently ruling out long-term Israeli occupation.

Mr Netanyahu has said Israel will maintain open-ended security control over Gaza and partner with local Palestinians who are not affiliated with Hamas or the western-backed Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

But Mr Netanyahu also said it is impossible to plan for such a post-war authority before Hamas is defeated.

In March, Mr Gantz met US officials in Washington to discuss the war, earning a rebuke from Mr Netanyahu.

He had been widely expected to leave the government once the heavy fighting in Gaza subsides, signalling the period of national unity established after the October 7 attack has ended.