Thursday 20 June 2024 - 03:59

With War Cabinet Nixed, What Next for Israeli War Leadership?

Story Code : 1142691
With War Cabinet Nixed, What Next for Israeli War Leadership?
In the latest move, the PM dissolved the war cabinet on Monday, a week after Benny Gantz and his ally Gadi Eizenkot left the body. The six-member war cabinet will now be replaced with a "small cabinet" or "kitchen cabinet", where Netanyahu will make further war decisions in consultation with this smaller council.

The PM's Office did not provide more details about how the responsibilities will be divided among the security cabinet and how will these consultations be.

Netanyahu was under pressure from far-right ministers in his coalition cabinet who wanted to join the war cabinet, which could have increased the role of the far-right in the politics of the war in Gaza.

What was the war cabinet?

The war cabinet was formed on October 11, four days after the Israeli government declared war on Gaza in response to the Hamas attack and after Benny Gantz joined Netanyahu in a national unity government. Gadi Eisenkot, the former chief of staff of the Israeli army, and Aryeh Deri, the head of the Shas religious party, were also present in this cabinet.

Netanyahu's office spokesman David Mencer told reporters that the war cabinet was a prerequisite for Gantz to join a national unity government. According to Israeli officials, Eisenkot also accepted to join the coalition government on the condition of forming a war cabinet. This cabinet was formed as a smaller body within the security cabinet which was part of the wider coalition cabinet. 

The war cabinet was planned to make quick war decisions, which would be sent to the larger government for adoption. 

However, shortly after war cabinet was formed, divisions inside it began to emerge.

In January, Haaretz reported that opposition leader Yair Lapid had said at a party meeting that Defense Minister Yoav Galant and Netanyahu were no longer on speaking terms, and that the war cabinet meetings had become a shameful arena for settling scores, fighting and arguments that lead nowhere. 

On June 9, Gantz and Eizenkot, both from National Unity Party, quitted the war cabinet for "lacking a plan" for Gaza beyond the current campaign. 

According to reports, Netanyahu said in his speech to the security cabinet on Sunday evening that "there is no more a war cabinet." A member present in the war cabinet told the Israeli press, citing Netanyahu, that this cabinet was part of the coalition agreement with Gantz and was formed at his request. The moment Gantz left, such a council lost its essence. 

One of the reasons for Gantz's departure from the cabinet was the loss of the war to the Gaza resistance groups, as after eight months the army was unable to achieve anything against Hamas and release the prisoners. Speaking about the reason for his departure from the cabinet, Gantz said that Netanyahu was blocking the path of the army's victory in Gaza with his wrong policies. Gantz also called for early elections.

Netanyahu goals behind cabinet dissolution 

By dissolving the cabinet and forming a consultative council as a replacement, Netanyahu tries to get rid of the pressures he is subjected to from hardliners in the cabinet such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich who lobbied to join the war cabinet after Gantz left. 

In a letter to Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir lashed out at Netanyahu for what he called "secret decisions" on war. 

Both of the radical ministers had earlier threatened to resign if Israel did not carry out its current attack on the Gaza city of Rafah, the last shelter to 1.5 million displaced civilians. Both also threatened to resign if Netanyahu accepted the US-backed ceasefire agreement before destroying Hamas.

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich also support construction of illegal settlements in Gaza, after the "voluntary migration" of Palestinians living in Gaza, a demand that will increase foreign pressure on Tel Aviv.

With Ben-Gvir and Smotrich's parties holding 14 seats in the Knesset compared to Gantz's National Unity's 12 seats, their departure would lead to the collapse of the coalition cabinet and the end of Netanyahu's premiership. 

The role of the war cabinet in determination of the conflict to a large extent diminished with withdrawal of Gantz. So, it is unlikely that official dissolution of the war cabinet will stir any big change. 

According to Netanyahu, the war cabinet will be replaced by a miniaturized cabinet where sensitive discussions and consultations can take place. According to Yediot Aharonot, the new body will include Gallant, Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, and head of the National Security Council Tzachi Hanegbi. 

In this regard, AFP reported, quoting an Israeli official who did not want to be named, that Netanyahu is expected to consult with his close allies in special meetings on some decisions, as they are not allowed to inform the media.

This Israeli official said: "This means that the security cabinet will hold more meetings. Anyway, the security cabinet is responsible for making decisions related to war." 

These behind-closed-doors meetings can erode the influence of some hardliners in the cabinet, but Netanyahu himself has not shown an interest in the ceasefire proposal and his rialiance on the security cabinet can provide him a cover to lengthen a decision. Under heavy pressure from the radicals, Netanyahu by forming a smaller cabinet tries to press ahead with Gaza war and keep his friends satisfied since accepting a ceasefire with Hamas will mark his political end, a nightmare these days haunting him. 

According to media reports, the discussions in the new cabinet will probably pursue two goals: First, to avoid the formation of a security cabinet on minor decisions, and second, to keep sensitive information away from far-right ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. According to the Guardian, the move is a deliberate humiliation for Netanyahu's far-right allies in the coalition, including Ben-Gvir, who has been seeking a seat in the war cabinet since Gantz left after complaining of being sidelined in key decisions.

An Israeli political analyst believes that dissolution of the war cabinet means returning the mandate to the National Security Council according to the law which gives the PM the power to make decisions even in person. 

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth, with the dissolution of the war cabinet, Netanyahu isolates himself, but this can be deliberate, showing that important decisions should be left to the broader government, where the majority of the ministers have small capability to manuver. 

Israeli media reported that Netanyahu dissolved the war cabinet to prevent members of the far-right coalition from participating in the sensitive council as he was worried that relations with Western allies such as the US would be damaged.

In this relation, Ismat Mansour, an expert of Israeli affairs, told Alhurra news that Netanyahu wants to send a message to Washington that he is handling the situation unaffected by the far-right. 

"The prime minister does not want to sink the war cabinet in the bidding of the right wing... This approach may be a tactic on Netanyahu's part, but it is considered a weakness in terms of developing a visionary strategic plan to exit the war," Said Mansour. 

It is noteworthy that the US government since the beginning warned that presence of such people as Ben-Gvir and Smotrich in Netanyahu’s cabinet will strain the relationship with Tel Aviv. Though the US government has been fully supporting Israeli regime in its genocidal war on Gaza, in recent weeks it presented a ceasefire proposal and asked Netanyahu to agree to it. But Ben-Gvir and Smotrich present a barrier to this peace proposal threatening Netanyahu everyday with withdrawal from his coalition, something arousing the ire of the US.