Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz quits emergency government

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz addresses the media after his ultimatum to withdraw his centrist party from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency government expired, in Ramat Gan,
[Reuters]

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz has quit the emergency government in a sign of deepening divisions over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's post-conflict plans for Gaza.

Speaking during a news conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday where he announced his resignation, Mr Gantz said the decision was made with a "heavy heart".

"Unfortunately, Mr Netanyahu is preventing us from approaching true victory, which is the justification for the painful ongoing crisis," he said.

Considered by some to be a potential challenger for power in Israel, Mr Gantz called on Mr Netanyahu to set a date for elections.

Mr Netanyahu responded with a post on X: “Benny, this is not the time to quit the campaign, this is the time to join forces."

Opposition leader Yair Lapid backed Mr Gantz's decision as “important and right” on social media.

Immediately after the announcement, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir demanded a place in the war cabinet.

Mr Ben-Gvir is part of a right-wing coalition that has threatened to quit and collapse the government if Israel accepts a ceasefire proposal put forward by US President Joe Biden.

Last month, Mr Gantz set a deadline of 8 June for Mr Netanyahu to lay out how Israel would achieve its six "strategic goals", including the end of Hamas rule in Gaza and the establishment of a multinational civilian administration for the territory.

The prime minister dismissed the comments at the time as "washed-up words" that would mean "defeat for Israel".

A retired army general and frequent critic of Mr Netayanhu, Mr Gantz had been a member of Israel's key decision-making "war cabinet", along with the prime minister and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet minister Benny Gantz, holds a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv,
Israel formed a three-person war cabinet following the 7 October attacks [Reuters]

During the news conference, Mr Gantz said he is not only personally resigning from the government, but withdrawing the National Unity party he chairs, too.

The move will not topple the Israeli government, since Mr Netanyahu will still hold a comfortable majority of 64 in the 120-seat Knesset.

It does, however, further isolate the prime minister and lay bare the deep political divisions over how he is running the war.

The resignation also comes one day before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken makes a three-day trip to the region, where he plans to visit Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar to press for a ceasefire agreement.

A political rival of Benjamin Netanyahu and a former IDF chief of staff, Mr Gantz's centrist National Unity party was in opposition until 11 October 2023 when, after the start of the war following Hamas's 7 October attacks, he agreed to form an emergency government with Mr Netanyahu.

National Unity holds five posts in the emergency government.

Mr Gantz's influence in the government was widely seen as a counterbalance to that of far-right members of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition.

In a separate development on Sunday, Israel's army announced the resignation of a senior commander who headed the IDF's Gaza division over what he called his failure to prevent the 7 October attacks.

Brigadier General Avi Rosenfeld is the first IDF combat commander to step down since the attacks.