US Vice President Kamala Harris meets Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz

Israeli politician's trip to Washington has reportedly angered the country's Prime Minister

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz and US Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington. Photo: The White House
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Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz met Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday as the US tries to rein in the bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Mr Gantz, a retired general and former defence minister, is a long-time rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is seen as a possible replacement to the far-right leader.

The leader of the centrist National Unity Party reportedly infuriated Mr Netanyahu with his visit to Washington this week.

While Mr Gantz was quick to join the war cabinet after the October 7 attack by Hamas against Israel, the trip may point to friction in the fragile unity coalition.

Opinion polls in Israel have him well ahead of Mr Netanyahu, who has become increasingly unpopular as the war has dragged on, and who has been blamed for some of the security failings on October 7.

“There is also a rivalry,” Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University, told The National.

“There's competition between them and it's clear that as Israeli politics returns to some form of normality over the next few months, we could see Gantz departing the government and an election.”

US Vice President calls for immediate six-week ceasefire in Gaza – video

US Vice President calls for immediate six-week ceasefire in Gaza

US Vice President calls for immediate six-week ceasefire in Gaza

Mr Steinberg stressed that while the war cabinet is showing signs of strain, he did not believe a collapse was imminent as the war remains the government’s priority.

“There is no visible daylight between their policies in pursuing the war and they very frequently support each other's positions,” he said.

The White House defended the meeting between Ms Harris and Mr Gantz, saying it was a chance to highlight Washington's increased interest in expanding humanitarian assistance.

“A member of the war cabinet from Israel wants to come to United States, wants to talk to us about the progress of that war, giving us an opportunity to talk about the importance of getting humanitarian assistance, increased opportunity to talk about the importance of this hostage deal,” said White House National Security spokesman John Kirby.

“We’re not going to turn away that sort of opportunity.”

In the meeting, Ms Harris “expressed her deep concern about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza and the recent horrific tragedy around an aid convoy in northern Gaza”, the White House said.

She “urged Israel to take additional measures in co-operation with the United States and international partners to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza and ensure its safe distribution to those in need”.

Mr Gantz is also expected to meet White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday.

His meeting with Ms Harris comes a day after she called for an “immediate ceasefire”, the strongest call yet by a US official since Israel launched its war on Gaza.

More than 30,500 people have been killed in the densely populated enclave in nearly five months of fighting, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.

The US, along with Egypt and Qatar, has been trying to broker a deal that would lead to Hamas releasing the rest of the hostages it seized on October 7 in exchange for a six-week pause in fighting.

“Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table,” Ms Harris said.

“This will get the hostages out and get a significant amount of aid in.”

On Saturday, the US dropped dozens of food pallets over the Gaza Strip in an effort to get much-needed humanitarian aid into the besieged strip.

The US, which had been reluctant to conduct such a mission before, was compelled to act after 115 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 wounded when they tried to retrieve aid off of a lorry.

Washington is trying to get a ceasefire deal in place before the start of Ramadan, which is expected to begin around March 10.

Latest from the Israel-Gaza war – in pictures

Updated: March 05, 2024, 7:07 AM