Benny Gantz quits Israel's war cabinet over Netanyahu stopping 'true victory'

Departure of highly experienced politician, widely viewed as moderating force in Netanyahu's far-right government, could empower extremists

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High-profile Israeli politician Benny Gantz has withdrawn his party from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wartime unity government, saying he made the decision "with a heavy heart, yet wholeheartedly".

One of three war cabinet ministers, Mr Gantz, who has become increasingly critical of Mr Netanyahu’s war strategy in recent months, said “Netanyahu is preventing [Israel] from progressing towards a true victory”.

In particular, he and his allies, along with a growing segment of Israeli society, accuse Mr Netanyahu of not prioritising the release of Israeli hostages.

"I want to ask the hostages' families for forgiveness," Mr Gantz said in his address. "We did a lot but we failed.

"We have not succeeded in returning many of the hostages home. The responsibility for this is mine, too."

His departure does not deprive Mr Netanyahu of his original four-seat majority – considered a strong one in Israeli politics – but it does leave him more vulnerable to far-right ministers.

They are threatening to topple the government if it does not pursue their militaristic, ultranationalist agenda, even as Israel comes under increasing international pressure over the toll of the Gaza war.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Sunday posted a letter on X demanding to be added to the war cabinet.

“The time has come to make brave decisions, achieve real deterrence and bring security to the residents of Israel,” Mr Ben-Gvir wrote.

Mr Netanyahu's first public reaction was to appeal to Mr Gantz to not "abandon the battle" after the war cabinet minister resigned from the government.

"Benny, this is not the time to abandon the battle – this is the time to join forces," Mr Netanyahu said in a post on X.

Mr Gantz is also widely considered to be Mr Netanyahu’s main rival for the post of prime minister.

For months. opinion polls predicted a significant victory for Mr Gantz’s National Unity party, although some recent surveys have shown Mr Netanyahu regaining a lead.

Mr Gantz brought his party into the government shortly after the October 7 Hamas-led attacks.

He joined the newly formed war cabinet. His close political ally, Gadi Eisenkot, joined as an observer.

Both men have extensive military experience and are viewed by Israel’s allies as far better placed to direct wartime operations than many in Mr Netanyahu’s original, far-right coalition.

In May, Mr Gantz set June 8 as a deadline for Mr Netanyahu to commit to a mutually agreed strategy for Gaza, or he would leave the coalition.

He was expected to announce his withdrawal in an address on Saturday night, but cancelled at the last minute seemingly because of news that four Israeli hostages had been rescued from captivity in Gaza.

After the operation, Mr Netanyahu issued a tweet asking Mr Gantz to stay.

Updated: June 10, 2024, 1:05 PM