Hero of Oct. 7 aims to revive Israel's moribund left

By Emily Rose

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - It was around two hours after Gazan militants launched an onslaught on Israel’s southern border communities that major general in the Israeli reserves Yair Golan began to understand the gravity of the attack on Israeli soil.

He got in his car and sped down south, stopping only to get an automatic weapon at an army base.

When he arrived at the site of the Nova Music Festival, he began rescuing survivors from what he described as "a massacre scene". Hamas gunmen had shot, bludgeoned or burned to death 364 people and took another 40 hostage.

"This is something I never saw previously - not in Beirut, not in the West Bank, not in the Gaza Strip," Golan told Reuters in an interview, reflecting on his nearly 40 years of combat experience.

Calls for national elections are becoming more frequent, as negotiations for a ceasefire with Hamas progress and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu straddles conflicting demands from members of his rightwing coalition.

Golan won the centre-left Labor Party's primaries in May and then formed a union with the smaller Meretz party, re-branding themselves as "The Democrats." The parties had suffered a crushing defeat in Israel's 2022 elections, with Labor, which governed for more than half of Israel's existence, reduced to just four seats in the 120 seat parliament, and Meretz shut out.

A July poll by Israel’s Channel 13 shows the Meretz-Labor union now winning 9 seats, giving them modest influence in a potential future coalition.

Golan is similar to Labor leaders from a different era, who carried a sword in one hand and an olive branch in the other. In discussing military tactics in Gaza, the left often appears to differ little from Netanyahu's rightwing government.

With five sons serving in the military, including four in combat units, Golan praised the military for reducing Hamas to "a very primitive phase of terror and small guerrilla actions" during the assault on Gaza that followed the Oct. 7 attacks.

"This is very good," Golan said. "But because it's not a stable situation, we need to keep freedom of action inside the Gaza Strip," mirroring the Netanyahu administration's insistence that Israel maintain security control over the enclave.

But Labor differs with Netanyahu over what would follow the war. Netanyahu rejects any role in Gaza for the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority that now exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli occupied West Bank. Golan said the PA would be integral to governing Gaza the "day after", with support from Arab states and Washington.

In tandem with the fighting, Golan said, Israel must "create islands of security" inside Gaza, which are "supported by regional alliances" and will provide Gazans with an alternative to Hamas.

(Reporting by Emily Rose; Editing by Peter Graff)