Benny Gantz resignation opens uncertain political chapter in Israel

Experienced politician was at the heart of Israel's war strategy and viewed widely as a moderating influence within the far-right government

Benny Gantz resigned from Israel's government on Sunday night. EPA
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Political chaos engulfed Israel on Monday after a key minister in the government resigned in anger over a lack of strategy in the Gaza War.

Benny Gantz, a senior politician with extensive military experience who joined a unity government after the October 7 attacks, said in his resignation speech on Sunday evening that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is preventing [Israel] from progressing towards a true victory” in Gaza.

Since the news broke late on Sunday night, opposition leaders have been calling for elections. Meanwhile, far-right ministers with extreme wartime policies that could push Israel further into international isolation have been demanding more of a say in how the war is conducted.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has led calls for resettling Gaza, depriving the strip of humanitarian aid and launching a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, is now insisting on joining the war cabinet, a three-person body formed after October 7 on which Mr Gantz sat.

"That small cabinet has led Israel until now, while excluding and dividing senior ministers in the government. No more,” Mr Ben-Gvir said, insisting now is the time “to make brave decisions”.

Mr Gantz had been becoming increasingly critical of Mr Netanyahu’s war strategy in recent months and set June 8 as a deadline by which Mr Netanyahu would have had to commit to a mutually agreed strategy for Gaza.

In particular, Mr Gantz and his allies, along with a growing segment of Israeli society, have been accusing Mr Netanyahu of not prioritising the release of Israeli hostages, choosing instead to placate far-right members of the cabinet who want to continue fighting in Gaza at all costs.

Mr Gantz’s departure could also endanger a ceasefire proposal presented by US President Joe Biden at the end of last month, which would pave the way for the release of Israeli hostages.

Far-right members of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition are bitterly opposed to an end to the war and are expected to do all they can to torpedo the deal.

Western diplomats told Israeli outlet Haaretz that Mr Gantz’s departure will make it more difficult to work with Israel.

“We won't involve ourselves in internal Israeli politics at this level but there's no question that for western governments supporting Israel, it will be harder now to continue with that support,” one official told the newspaper.

Controversy over the fate of captives continued on Monday when far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich incurred sharp criticism from the families of Israeli hostages.

After family members intercepted him outside the Israeli Parliament, Mr Smotrich accused them of “demagoguery” after they complained about him not meeting them since the war began.

If Hamas survives because of a ceasefire deal, it will resume “arming itself, digging tunnels, purchasing missiles and many Jews can be murdered and kidnapped in another October 7”, he told the family members.

Despite fears the resignation might embolden the far right in the short term, leaders in Israel’s opposition welcomed Mr Gantz’s move.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said the decision was “important and correct” and called for elections.

"The time has come to replace this extreme and reckless government with a sane government that will lead to the return of security to the citizens of Israel, to the return of the hostages, to the restoration of Israel's economy and international status,” he added.

Updated: June 10, 2024, 12:47 PM