Who’s who in Israel’s new emergency government and war cabinet

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Benny Gantz and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant will be key decision-makers on the conflict

FILE PHOTO: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), Defence Minister Ehud Barak (R) and military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz (2nd R) stand together after observing an earthquake drill in Holon, near Tel Aviv, Israel October 21, 2012. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo
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Almost a week since the Israel-Gaza conflict began, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a deal with opposition leader Benny Gantz to establish a unity emergency government that includes members of the latter’s party, as well as a smaller “war cabinet” to lead decision-making in the conflict.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr Netanyahu and his centrist political rival Mr Gantz made the decision after delaying talks for more than 24 hours.

The new government's war cabinet will include Mr Netanyahu, Mr Gantz and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. They will be joined by former Israeli army chief of staff Gadi Eizencot, a member of Mr Gantz's party, and current Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer.

A broader emergency government will remain in place that includes far-right members of Mr Netanyahu’s current coalition government, who will take charge of non-Gaza war-related policies.

Who is in Israel's war cabinet?

Benjamin Netanyahu

Mr Netanyahu, who heads one of the most right-wing governments in Israeli history, early on Saturday invited opposition leaders to join a unity government, seeking to broaden support for the country's military response.

For Mr Netanyahu, securing the freedom of hostages comes as a top priority and with painful personal memories. In 1976, his older brother was killed rescuing hostages at Entebbe airport in Uganda, an action the younger Mr Netanyahu said shaped his life.

In a long career, Mr Netanyahu has shown little appetite for ground campaigns and Gaza is a difficult environment for military operations, with more than two million people crammed into a tiny strip of land run by Hamas.

The group has been in control there since a brief war with security forces loyal to West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

Yoav Gallant

Mr Gallant is a member of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, and Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party. He has served as the Minister of Defence since 2022.

He is a former commander of the Southern Command in the Israeli army, bringing military expertise alongside his defence portfolio to the war cabinet.

In a late-night briefing on Wednesday, Mr Gallant vowed to wipe Hamas “off the face of the Earth” as the new unity government signalled that a major ground offensive would start soon in retaliation for the weekend attack by the militant group.

Benny Gantz

Mr Gantz is a former Israeli army chief of staff and defence minister. His conditions for a unity government included the establishment of a smaller war cabinet that excluded far-right members of the current coalition, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Mr Eizencot and Mr Dermer would also join the five-man war cabinet as advisers, with two other senior officials as “observer” members.

What powers will the war cabinet have?

Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant already have the right to make any decisions on the war without consulting the government or Knesset after the government exercised a law that gives them that right.

But having this war cabinet will counter accusations against Mr Netanyahu that he is going it alone, or does not have people with extensive military experience within his ruling coalition.

Many opposition figures have mocked Mr Ben-Gvir for donning military attire despite his lack of military service. He was excluded from serving in the army due to links to a far-right organisation accused of terrorist attacks against Palestinians.

Mr Gantz, by contrast, has experience dealing with previous wars in the Gaza Strip.

For now, the official statement following Wednesday’s joint statement said the war cabinet has powers focused only on the Israeli army’s operations in Gaza.

If the war cabinet wants to broaden the scope of the conflict, then it will have to consult the wider emergency unity government, which consists of members of Mr Netanyahu’s ruling coalition plus five members of Mr Gantz’s National Unity Party.

What about opposition member Yair Lapid?

Former prime minister Yair Lapid, another opposition leader, was the first to publicly offer an emergency unity government on Saturday evening. But Mr Lapid has not publicly joined the unity government as his condition that Mr Netanyahu sideline Mr Smotrich and Mr Ben-Gvir has not been met.

Mr Lapid has been given the option to join the war cabinet that will be focused entirely on Israel's military efforts, a source from the Israeli government told The National.

Updated: October 16, 2023, 11:22 AM