Benny Gantz Quits Israel’s Emergency Government in Dispute Over Gaza (2024)

The move exposed the fractures within Israel’s leadership eight months into the war in Gaza.


Benny Gantz Quits Israel’s Emergency Government in Dispute Over Gaza (1)

The Israeli politician Benny Gantz, a key member of the country’s war cabinet, quit the government on Sunday over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the war in Gaza.

The resignation dealt a blow to the appearance of unity that Mr. Netanyahu was able to marshal at the start of the conflict and exposed the divisions at the top of the Israeli leadership over the future of the war and its aftermath.

Mr. Gantz, a centrist figure who last month threatened to resign unless Mr. Netanyahu addressed his concerns about how the war would end and what would follow it, said his party was leaving the emergency government “with a heavy but complete heart.” He said that Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership was “preventing us from advancing to the real victory.”

The move is unlikely to force Mr. Netanyahu from office — the prime minister’s government will still hold a narrow majority in Israel’s Parliament. Mr. Gantz’s exit comes as frustration mounts over the failure to decisively topple Hamas or to bring home all the hostages held in Gaza after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on southern Israel. Mr. Netanyahu has also faced international criticism as the destruction and civilian casualties have mounted in Gaza.

Last month, Mr. Gantz set a Saturday deadline for Mr. Netanyahu to meet his demands for answers on a host of issues, including a plan to return hostages held in Gaza. He scheduled a news conference for Saturday, but postponed his remarks after Israeli authorities announced the rescue of four hostages.

In televised remarks on Sunday evening, Mr. Gantz offered his view of a “real victory,” saying it included prioritizing the return of hostages over one’s political survival — a clear jab at the prime minister. He also said it would combine “military success” with a diplomatic initiative, toppling Hamas and replacing it with an alternative government.

One of Mr. Gantz’s most prominent differences with Mr. Netanyahu has been over plans for the future governance of Gaza. Critics say Mr. Netanyahu has failed to articulate a coherent plan for how Gaza will be run after the war ends, and by whom. Mr. Gantz has called for the establishment of an administrative body overseeing civilian affairs, with the backing of Americans, Europeans, Arabs and Palestinians.

On Sunday, Mr. Gantz singled out Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s party who has sometimes pushed back against the prime minister, for praise and called on him to not only “say the right thing, but to do what is right,” although his meaning was not immediately clear.

Mr. Netanyahu reacted to Mr. Gantz’s remarks by exhorting him to stay in the government.

“Israel is in an existential war on several fronts. Benny, this is not the time to abandon the campaign — this is the time to unite forces,” he wrote on X. “My door will remain open to any Zionist party willing to shoulder the gurney and help bringing about victory over our enemies and ensuring our citizens’ safety.”

Now that he has removed himself from the war cabinet, Mr. Gantz’s ability to exert influence over the war will be limited. But it allows him to cast himself as someone who stood up to Mr. Netanyahu ahead of any future elections. Critics, however, have said Mr. Gantz should have made this move months ago.

After the Hamas-led assault in October, Mr. Gantz’s party joined an emergency government in what was viewed as a demonstration of unity during a crisis. He and another member of his party, Gadi Eisenkot, joined the powerful war cabinet, a small body that has made crucial decisions about the conflict. (Mr. Eisenkot, who was a nonvoting member of the war cabinet, also resigned on Sunday.) Mr. Gantz’s experience as a former military chief of staff, former defense minister — and his status as a popular opposition figure seen as a potential future prime minister — added to the cabinet’s credibility.

But as the war dragged on, fissures between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz came into plain sight. Mr. Gantz demanded that the war cabinet approve a plan to bring hostages home, address the future governance of Gaza, return displaced Israelis to their homes and advance normalization with Saudi Arabia, among other issues.

“If you choose the path of zealots, dragging the country into the abyss, we will be forced to leave the government,” he said in a televised news conference on May 18.

Following the rescue on Saturday — and the delay of Mr. Gantz’s remarks — Mr. Netanyahu appeared to hold out some hope that Mr. Gantz would remain part of the emergency government. The return of the four hostages gave Israelis a moment of celebration, but only underscored the challenge of trying to free roughly 120 more through military action alone.

Mr. Netanyahu has rejected the Biden administration’s view that the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, should help run Gaza in some form — a position also held by Mr. Gantz. And he has not publicly embraced a cease-fire proposal endorsed by Mr. Biden, one that Israeli officials have said generally matched one greenlit by the war cabinet. (Hamas has not formally responded to the proposal, either.)

But Mr. Gantz has been among the most notable voices pushing for a deal to release hostages and achieve a cease-fire. His more moderate positions have helped boost the government’s international credibility. Without his party, the prime minister’s government will be made up of his right-wing Likud party, three far-right parties and two ultra-Orthodox factions.

Analysts have said Mr. Gantz’s departure could embolden far-right ministers in Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition, led by Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who have threatened to bring down the government if the prime minister moves forward with the latest cease-fire proposal. After Mr. Gantz’s announcement, Mr. Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, said on social media that he had written to Mr. Netanyahu demanding that he be added to the war cabinet.

Natan Sachs, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, called Mr. Gantz’s decision “a risky move” that removed moderate voices from Mr. Netanyahu’s government.

“It strengthens the hand of the far-right. Within the war cabinet, it may weaken the chance of a deal” to free the hostages, he said. “Two important voices in favor of an agreement are now out.”

Aaron Boxerman and Johnatan Reiss contributed reporting.

Adam Rasgon Reporting from Jerusalem

Key Developments

The commander of the Israeli military’s Gaza division resigns, and other news.

  • Brig. Gen. Avi Rosenfeld, the commander of the Israeli military’s Gaza division, resigned on Sunday over the Oct. 7 attacks, the military announced. Mr. Rosenfeld wrote in a resignation letter that he had “failed in his life’s mission” to defend the Israeli communities bordering Gaza.

  • Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said “it was a fair question” whether the rescue mission in Gaza would impede the effort to get Hamas to agree to a hostage-release and cease-fire plan that President Biden endorsed nine days ago. In a prerecorded interview that will air Sunday on CBS, Mr. Sullivan said he could not “put myself in the head of Hamas terrorists” but that “the whole world is looking to Hamas to say yes.” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Qatar this week to press for a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas.

  • The U.S. military said on Saturday that aid deliveries to Gaza through a temporary pier had resumed. A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said on Friday that the pier had been repaired, more than a week after it broke apart in high seas.

  • Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters in Washington converged around the White House on Saturday, urging President Biden to stop all military aid to Israel and calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.



Gazans recall ‘unimaginably intense’ Israeli bombing around the hostage raid.


A day after the Israeli military rescued four hostages held by Hamas militants in Nuseirat, Gazans described an intense bombardment during the raid, followed by chaos in the streets from an operation that killed and wounded scores of Palestinians.

Bayan Abu Amr, 32, was carrying her 18-month-old son Mohammad on the edge of Nuseirat’s main marketplace on Saturday when she was surrounded by the heavy booms of strikes from aircraft, which Israel’s military said targeted militants in an effort to ensure the safe extraction of the hostages and special forces.

“People were rushing like the day of judgment; I did not know where to run,” said Ms. Abu Amr, who was on her way to pay a condolence call to her uncle’s family after two of his sons had died. “Kids were screaming, women were falling down while running.”

Along with other Gazans, she managed to clamber onto a passing pickup truck that was trying to ferry people safely out amid the strikes, she recalled. One girl was separated from her mother in the confusion, while an old man lost his grip and fell off the truck onto the ground, she said.

Ms. Abu Amr finally arrived home with her son hours later, shocked that she was still alive. “I won’t take my son out of the house again,” she said.

To rescue the hostages, Israeli troops entered two residential buildings in which they were being held, according to Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman. Admiral Hagari said there were families living in the apartments, as well as armed Hamas militants guarding the hostages, making it “impossible to reach them without harming the civilians of Gaza.”

The precise death toll remained unclear as health officials sought to gather statistics amid chaotic scenes at hospitals. Gazan health officials reported that more than 200 people were killed in the raid; the Israeli military said it was aware of fewer than 100 casualties, without specifying whether these were dead or wounded or both. Neither side provided a breakdown of combatants versus civilians.

On Sunday, the corridors and hallways of the last major medical center in central Gaza, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, remained “densely crowded” with new patients, after more than 100 dead bodies had been brought there on Saturday, said Khalil Daqran, a hospital official. Most of the bodies had since been buried or claimed by relatives, he added.

The medical facility — already packed before the Israeli rescue mission in nearby Nuseirat — overflowed, said Abdelkarim al-Harazin, 28, a physician working there.

“The bombing was unimaginably intense,” said Dr. al-Harazin. “The whole hospital became one giant emergency room, even as people came looking for their dead relatives.”

When Al-Aqsa became overwhelmed, many of the wounded were sent to a nearby field hospital operated by the International Medical Corps, according to Javed Ali, an official with the aid group.

Diana Abu Shaban, 28, first heard gunfire as she was about to hang laundry near the tent where she was sheltering in Nuseirat. As the assault escalated, she told her daughters to hide before realizing that the frail tent could not protect them. Gathering her children, she sprinted to the nearby Al-Awda medical center in a desperate search for safety.

She said her husband, Saeed, had left earlier that morning for the market, where Palestinian residents said the strikes were particularly intense.

“I heard lots and lots of missiles,” Ms. Abu Shaban said. “I thought my husband would be killed or injured.”

After two hours, the bombing died down and she and her children left the hospital, she said. Later, they discovered that her husband had survived by hiding in a nearby shop.

Abd Al-Rahman Basem al-Masri, 25, who lives on the northern edge of Deir al-Balah, said Saturday had been the worst day he’d witnessed since the start of the war.

Mr. al-Masri said he, his mother and his younger brother had driven back from his uncle’s house and were approaching their home when an airstrike pounded into the ground beside it.

In a video shot by a friend who was also in the car, an expanding cloud of smoke can be seen rising behind the building. “In that moment, I lost hope that we can continue to live here,” Mr. al-Masri said.

Another Gazan who lives in Nuseirat, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said he and more than 10 family members hid inside for hours as heavy airstrikes rattled the neighborhood. He said he had no idea hostages had been held in the area.

After the bombing subsided, he headed out into the devastated market area, where he said he saw the street covered in blood and bodies. Gazans there were cursing not just Israel, but Hamas as well, he said, blaming them for bringing this disaster upon them.

He said neither Israel nor Hamas cared about the destruction as they sought to attack one another. Everyday people, he added, were the victims.

Bilal Shbair,Aaron Boxerman and Adam Rasgon

What is known about the hostages still in Gaza?


Israelis briefly breathed a collective sigh of relief on Saturday, when the military announced it had rescued four hostages who were held in Gaza for eight months after being captured in the Oct. 7 attack led by Hamas.

The four hostages were taken at the Nova music festival on Oct. 7 and were rescued in an operation in the town of Nuseirat in central Gaza early Saturday. The mission left scores of Palestinians, including women and children, dead. News of the rescue raised renewed questions about the fate of those who remain in captivity and a proposed cease-fire deal.

How many hostages are still being held in Gaza?

Roughly 120 captives remain in Gaza. The Israeli military has confirmed that at least 30 of them have died.

Earlier this month, the Israeli military informed the families of four hostages that they were dead and that their bodies were being held by Hamas. In May, the military recovered the bodies of nine hostages, and the families of two Thai citizens who had been captured were informed that their bodies were still being held in Gaza.

Will Israel undertake more rescue operations?

Dozens of proposed rescue missions have not gone forward for fear the hostages or soldiers would lose their lives in the process, according to Israeli defense officials.

Israeli troops have managed to rescue only seven living hostages in three separate military operations. In December, Israeli troops accidentally fired on and killed three hostages in Gaza who were trying to reach safety.

How did Hamas respond to the operation?

In a statement on social media, Abu Obaida, the military spokesman for Al-Qassam Brigades, accused Israel of “a complex war crime” and suggested that the rescue operation had endangered the remaining hostages and would have “a negative impact on their conditions and lives.”

What are the families of the hostages saying?

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which represents the families of the captives, held a rally in Tel-Aviv on Saturday, as it has throughout the war. The gathering drew thousands to celebrate the rescue operation. But the group stressed the urgency of bringing home all of the remaining captives in Gaza.

“The joyous news of the return home of Shlomi, Noa, Almog and Andrey to their families through a military operation reminds us all that, for 36 weeks, 120 hostages have been waiting to return home,” the group said in a statement that referred to the names of the freed captives and that pressed for the acceptance of a proposed cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas that would bring home the remaining hostages.

What is happening with the proposed cease-fire deal?

President Biden in late May outlined a road map for a three-phase plan that would begin with an immediate, temporary cease-fire and work toward a permanent end to the war and the reconstruction of Gaza.

In the first phase, both sides would observe a six-week cease-fire, Israel would withdraw from major population centers in Gaza and a number of hostages would be released, including women, the elderly and the wounded.

Israel and Hamas would continue to negotiate to reach a permanent cease-fire. If they are successful, the deal would enter phase two, with the full withdrawal of Israel’s military from the enclave.

All hostages and more Palestinian prisoners would be freed. In phase three, Hamas would return the bodies of hostages who had died, and a reconstruction period, backed by the United States, European countries and international institutions, would begin in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is facing competing pressures from the United States and other allies to end the war and from two far-right partners in his governing coalition who have threatened to bring down his government should Israel agree to a deal that would end the war without eliminating Hamas.

Hamas previously said that it was responding “positively” to the plan but had informed mediators that the group would not approve an agreement that did not provide a path for a permanent cease-fire, a total withdrawal of Israeli troops, and a “serious and real deal” to exchange Palestinian prisoners for hostages.

It is not clear what effect the latest hostage rescue operation will have on deal negotiations.

Ephrat Livni

Benny Gantz Quits Israel’s Emergency Government in Dispute Over Gaza (2024)


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