Rift grows between Netanyahu and Israeli military over Hamas elimination

A television interview followed by a sharp government response is the latest evidence of a deepening rift between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the military over whether Hamas can be eliminated and the lack of a broader day-after plan for the end of the war in Gaza.

Netanyahu and his office have repeatedly stated that the main goal of the war is the destruction of Hamas, but they have avoided talking about how the Gaza Strip would be governed afterward — something the military insists needs to be established.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said in an interview late Wednesday with Channel 13: “Hamas cannot be destroyed. Hamas is an idea. Those who think it can be made to disappear are wrong.”

In what has been viewed as a rare and pointed message from the military to Israeli political leadership, Hagari continued: “What we can do is foster something new to replace Hamas. Who will that be? What will it be? That’s for the political leadership to decide.”

His comments were swiftly rebuffed by the prime minister’s office, as Netanyahu took his familiar political position, reiterating that only a “total victory” and the elimination of Hamas will end the war in Gaza.

“Netanyahu has defined one of the war’s objectives as the destruction of Hamas’s military and governmental capabilities,” his office tweeted in response. “The IDF is, of course, committed to this.”


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The IDF appeared to stand by Hagari’s comments, stating that they were made “explicitly and clearly.” It underscored that the IDF remains “committed to achieving the goals of the war, as set by the war cabinet, acts to do so tirelessly throughout the war and will keep doing so.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has issued statements voicing the deep misgivings of the wider defense establishment, which fears that the government’s lack of a political strategy in Gaza will allow Hamas to regroup. Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot, war cabinet members from a centrist political coalition, resigned after urging Netanyahu to adopt a postwar plan for Gaza.

Israelis are more confident in their military than in their government, according to a survey published Thursday by the Pew Research Center. The poll of 1,001 Israelis, conducted March 3 to April 4 — before Netanyahu dissolved the war cabinet — found that 61 percent of Jewish Israelis trusted their government to “do what is right for Israel.”

A vast majority — 93 percent — of Jewish Israelis said the military had a “very good” or “somewhat good” influence on domestic affairs. That comes even as the military has come under scrutiny for what was viewed as a lackluster and slow response to the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, and allegations in the international community that the IDF is committing war crimes in Gaza.

Israelis were also more supportive of Gallant than of Netanyahu, according to the survey. Seventy-four percent of Jewish Israelis had a favorable opinion of Gallant, while 51 percent had a favorable opinion of Netanyahu. Support for both leaders was paltry among Palestinian citizens of Israel: 9 percent had a favorable view of the defense minister and 7 percent had a favorable view of the prime minister.

Washington has also counseled senior Israeli politicians to “connect its military operations [in Gaza] to a political strategy,” said U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan during a visit to Israel last month. So far, Netanyahu has lashed out at his critics and refused to succumb to pressure to formulate a day-after plan. In one such instance, Netanyahu accused Washington of delaying weapons shipments to Israel in a video shared to social media Tuesday.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby called Netanyahu’s Tuesday video “perplexing” given the volume of U.S. support to Israel. “It was vexing and disappointing to us as much as it was incorrect,” Kirby said Thursday.

The United States and some members of the Israeli military establishment have envisioned a postwar role for an overhauled Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank. Netanyahu’s government, however, has repeatedly rejected any role for it, and the Foreign Ministry under Netanyahu ally Israel Katz recently started a social media campaign to discredit the idea.

Street protests in Israel are escalating, as well, with demonstrators on Thursday once again blocking highways in Tel Aviv and near the town of Caesarea where Netanyahu lives. Families of hostages, along with others, held signs and placards as they blocked traffic and called for elections and the release of hostages. Einav Zangauker, the mother of one hostage, lambasted Netanyahu.

“You chose your political survival over the people and the hostages,” she told Israeli media, addressing Netanyahu. “The guilt will follow you to the grave. You cannot escape it.”

The debate over the future of the Israeli operation in Gaza comes as aid agencies report a worsening humanitarian situation after the IDF’s incursion into the southern city of Rafah that started in May and severely disrupted humanitarian activities.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an update this week that “hundreds of thousands of displaced people in southern Gaza” continue to suffer from poor access to shelter, health, food, water and sanitation. Almost 60 percent of Gaza’s cropland has been damaged, it added, while the food supply chain in Gaza has been “severely disrupted.”

Amid the increasingly desperate circumstances, looting is getting worse and hindering aid delivery efforts and humanitarian operations, according to Georgios Petropoulos, head of the Gaza sub-office for OCHA.

Without “any kind of civil order and rule of law in south Gaza,” cigarette smuggling along the Egyptian border has exploded, he told The Post.

Cyprus’s president has underscored that his country is “in no way involved in the hostilities” in the Middle East. Nikos Christodoulides tweeted Thursday that, instead, the island nation is “part of the solution,” citing humanitarian aid and support for Gaza. His response follows comments this week from Hasan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese militant group and political party Hezbollah, who warned Cyprus against getting involved in the conflict and insinuated that the small nation was poised to assist the IDF. Nasrallah did not provide evidence for his claims.

Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have upended life for Syrian refugees who live and work near the border. In southern Lebanon, the fighting has displaced more than 95,000 people, according to the International Organization for Migration, and damaged homes and the farmland where many Syrians worked as day laborers.

The U.N. Environment Program issued a report this week detailing the environmental impact of the conflict in Gaza. “Sewage, wastewater and solid waste management systems and facilities have collapsed,” it found. The destruction of buildings, roads and other infrastructure has generated over 39 million tons of debris, it added, “some of which is contaminated with unexploded ordnance, asbestos and other hazardous substances. Human remains are buried in this vast quantity of building debris.”

At least 37,431 ​​people have been killed and 85,653 injured in Gaza since the war started, according to the Gaza Health Ministry on Thursday. It 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 310 soldiers have been killed since the launch of its military operations in Gaza.

Lior Soroka and Miriam Berger contributed to this report.

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