Gantz quits Israeli emergency government in row over Gaza's future

Then Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a pre-election event at the Manufacturers Association of Israel. Ilia Yefimovich/dpa
Then Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a pre-election event at the Manufacturers Association of Israel. Ilia Yefimovich/dpa
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Influential Israeli politician Benny Gantz is leaving the emergency government formed in Israel following the attack by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement on October 7, due to differences of opinion over the future of the Gaza Strip, he told journalists on Sunday evening.

The 65-year-old former defence minister had already threatened to take this step if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government failed to draw up a plan for a post-war order in the Gaza Strip.

The ultimatum issued by Gantz to Netanyahu a few weeks ago expired on Saturday. However, due to the dramatic rescue of four hostages from the Gaza Strip, he postponed a planned press conference at the last minute.

According to Gantz, the resignation from the government led by Netanyahu also affects other members of his National Unity party.

However, he will not topple Israel's leadership with this step, because Netanyahu's right-wing religious Cabinet still has a majority of 64 out of 120 seats in parliament.

A former general, Gantz joined Netanyahu's government as minister without portfolio after the unprecedented attack by Hamas and other terrorist groups, in order to send a signal of unity.

The centrist party National Unity, led by Gantz, is actually in opposition.

Netanyahu formed a war Cabinet with Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, Gantz and two non-voting co-chairs. The influence of Netanyahu's ultra-right coalition members was thus limited in determining the most important war decisions. Gantz's move could lead to the dissolution of the war Cabinet.

Netanyahu had urged Gantz not to leave on Saturday night. "Don't leave the emergency government. Don't give up unity," he wrote on Platform X, addressing Gantz. "This is the time for unity, not division. We must remain united among ourselves in the face of the great tasks that lie ahead."

The Times of Israel commented that without Gantz's support, Netanyahu would be even more susceptible to the demands of his right-wing religious coalition partners, who are calling for even tougher action against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, for example.

According to the media, the United States wanted Gantz to remain in the Cabinet as long as negotiations on a ceasefire agreement and the release of hostages with Hamas continued. As Netanyahu's right-wing religious coalition partners are against a deal, Gantz's presence in the emergency government is of great importance for the success of an agreement.

Former chief of general staff Gantz had recently criticized the fact that important decisions by the leadership to secure victory in the Gaza Strip had not been taken. "A small minority has taken over the command bridge of the Israeli ship of state and is steering it towards the cliffs," said Gantz, referring to Netanyahu's far-right coalition partners.

Among others, Gantz called for the establishment of a US-European-Arab-Palestinian government alternative in the Gaza Strip. Under no circumstances could this be Hamas or Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he said.

The US wants the Palestinian Authority (PA) to be reorganized and then take back control of the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu rejects this.

Hamas forcibly expelled the PA from the Gaza Strip in 2007.

The army has also recently complained that, due to the lack of a political strategy for the post-war period, soldiers are repeatedly having to fight in places in the Gaza Strip from which the military had actually already withdrawn.

However, Netanyahu has so far refused to present a plan for the administration and reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after the end of the war, probably also to avoid offending his ultra-right-wing coalition partners. They are pursuing goals such as highly controversial Israeli settlement construction in the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu's political survival depends on them.

The media have speculated that Gantz's return to the opposition could also be due to his declining popularity. For many months, his party had been far ahead of Netanyahu's Likud party in opinion polls.

According to some polls, however, a narrow majority would now favour Netanyahu over Gantz as prime minister for the first time since the start of the war around eight months ago. His party's lead over Netanyahu's has also shrunk recently.

Earlier on Sunday, the Hamas-controlled Gaza health authority increased its casualty estimates from Israel's hostage rescue operation in central Gaza - the event on Saturday that caused Gantz to delay his announcement.

Four Israeli hostages were rescued alive.

On the Palestinian side, some 274 people were killed and 698 injured in the operation in Nuseirat, the ministry said.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said that the special forces were under fire throughout the entire operation, which was a long time in the planning. Armed Palestinians had also used bazookas against the troops. One Israeli officer was killed during the operation, it was reported.

Also on Sunday, Brigadier-General Avi Rosenfeld, head of the Gaza Division of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), announced his resignation, taking responsibility for the Hamas attack mounted from the Gaza Strip last year.

"On October 7, I failed in my life's mission to protect the Gaza border communities. Everyone has to take responsibility for their part, and I am in charge of the division," Rosenfeld said in a statement.

"As part of taking responsibility as a commander, I decided to end my position and service in the IDF after 30 years of service," he added. Rosenfeld's resignation will take effect once a replacement has been appointed.