Netanyahu dissolves war cabinet but plans to keep far right sidelined


TEL AVIV — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that he had dissolved his government’s war cabinet — the emergency panel that has managed the war in Gaza so far — a week after two of its centrist members resigned in protest.

The war cabinet was seen as a way to exclude far-right ministers in the governing coalition but with the departure of its moderate members, it was no longer viable. Netanyahu may continue to discuss general matters with the wider security cabinet, but he “will hold smaller forums for sensitive matters,” according to Israeli officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The “smaller forums” are expected to include Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi and the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, as well as representatives of the military establishment.

Over the past nine months of combat in Gaza, Netanyahu has rebuffed several attempts by the extremist members of his coalition, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, to join the discussions, according to Israeli media reports.

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Ben Gvir and Smotrich have consistently pressured Netanyahu to oppose a cease-fire plan that would involve the release of Israel’s remaining 120 hostages in Hamas captivity, dozens of whom are still believed to be alive.

They have insisted Netanyahu keep his original promise to achieve “total victory” against Hamas after the organization carried out a surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage. They have also pushed for Israeli reoccupation of the Gaza Strip — a policy move that Israeli defense leaders staunchly oppose.

On Monday, Ben Gvir tweeted that Netanyahu’s decision to implement daily pauses in fighting in Gaza, to allow for the movement of aid trucks through the enclave and potentially set the stage for the wind-down of the war, was not brought before the security cabinet and was decided by someone who is “stupid and ignorant, who must not be allowed to continue in his position.”

Nine months of fighting, especially in the southern Rafah region of Gaza, has created a humanitarian crisis that Israel is under international pressure to address.

Ben Gvir and Smotrich’s continued influence, even from outside the war cabinet, was partly the reason for the resignation of war cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot last week. The two centrists said they joined the cabinet to ensure that the war was conducted responsibly, but have since concluded that they couldn’t work with Netanyahu as long as he refused to commit to a day-after strategy for Gaza.

The departure came after a string of military leaders made rare public statements airing their grievances with Netanyahu’s handling of the war in Gaza, with many saying that Israel cannot afford to continue it indefinitely, especially with tensions escalating on the Lebanese border.

The Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has been launching near daily cross-border attacks against Israel since the war began. Tens of thousands of civilian residents on both sides of the border have evacuated their homes, which have, in their absences, been transformed into unofficial war zones.

U.S. Special Envoy Amos Hochstein met with Netanyahu, the members of the cabinet, and the opposition Monday, in an effort to advance a diplomatic resolution with Hezbollah.

Brig. Gen. Efraim Sneh, a former deputy minister of defense, said that Israel has achieved its military objectives of degrading the majority of Hamas capabilities and can afford to declare an end to the war in Gaza, get back the hostages, and redirect its focus to distancing Hezbollah forces from its northern border.

“Israel is in an unacceptable situation, in which a big part of the country has been deserted,” he said. He added that, while “Israel’s forces are stretched thin between Gaza and the Lebanese border,” Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners are exacerbating the situation by blocking hundreds of thousands of Palestinian day laborers from entering Israel and enacting punitive measures against the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

In Gaza, Palestinians marking Eid al-Adha, one of the biggest holidays in the Islamic calendar, found little to celebrate Monday.

“There is no hint of Eid,” said Nour Abu Rukba by WhatsApp from the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza, which Israeli forces pulled out of last month after a three-week offensive that sent tens of thousands of civilians fleeing and destroyed many of the city’s remaining structures.

The latest offensive has left many people homeless and hopeless as the war continues with no end in sight. Much of the market is destroyed. What is for sale is unaffordable for most people.

“Today the people weren’t thinking about Eid,” she said. “They were thinking about how to get a tent and what to do.”

The IDF is moving closer to a larger war with Hezbollah, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said in a video message Sunday. Fighting between Israel and Hezbollah has intensified in recent weeks at the Lebanese border. “Hezbollah’s increasing aggression is bringing us to the brink of what could be a wider escalation — one that could have devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region,” Hagari said. After an Israeli strike killed a Hezbollah commander last week, a Hezbollah official said the militant group would retaliate with increased operations “in intensity, strength, quantity and quality.”

Fighting has continued in Rafah and southern Gaza a day after Israeli forces announced a daily 11-hour pause of operations along an aid corridor in the region, United Nations Relief and Works Agency Commissioner Philippe Lazzarini told Reuters on Monday. “For the time being, I see nothing which would qualify to the definition of a pause,” he told the outlet. An IDF spokesperson said in a statement Monday that the military had paused fighting on the aid route between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. but was continuing operations in other parts of southern Gaza.

Israel made an all-time high in defense exports last year, raising $13.07 billion, the country’s Defense Ministry said in a statement Monday. Deals for missile, rocket and air defense systems made up 36 percent of Israel’s defense exports, and the majority of the exports were sent to the Asia-Pacific region and to Europe, the statement said. “Israel continues succeeding in its international cooperation and industrial defense exports even during a year marked by war,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in the statement.

At least 37,347 ​​people have been killed and 85,372 injured in Gaza since the war started, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and it says 311 soldiers have been killed since the launch of its military operations in Gaza.

Melnick reported from London, Berger from Jerusalem. Lior Soroka contributed to this report.



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