The Disputes in the Israeli Cabinet Over Gaza Come to Light - Latest Global News

The Disputes in the Israeli Cabinet Over Gaza Come to Light

By James Mackenzie

JERUSALEM, May 16 (Reuters) – The Israeli government’s divisions over the war in Gaza came to the fore this week after the defense minister publicly called for a clear strategy from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as troops returned to fight in areas that have been since months ago to fight against Hamas fighters.

The comments by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said he would not agree to the formation of a military government in the enclave, reflect the security establishment’s growing unease over the lack of direction from Netanyahu about who should govern Gaza when the fighting stops.

They also highlighted the sharp divide between the two centrist former army generals in the cabinet, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, both of whom supported Gallant’s call, and the far-right nationalist religious parties led by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Internal Security Minister Itamar Ben. Gvir, who condemned the comments.

“You can’t wage war like this,” the right-wing tabloid Israel Today headlined its Thursday edition, with a photo showing Netanyahu and Gallant looking in different directions.

Aside from dismantling Hamas and repatriating around 130 hostages still held by the Islamist movement, Netanyahu has not outlined a clear strategic goal for ending the campaign that has killed around 35,000 Palestinians and left Israel increasingly isolated internationally.

However, supported by Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, both close to the West Bank settler movement, he has rejected any involvement of the Palestinian Authority in the administration of the post-war Gaza Strip, established under the interim Oslo peace accords three decades ago and internationally generally The Palestinian Authority is considered the most legitimate Palestinian government authority.

Netanyahu, struggling to hold together his increasingly fractious coalition, has so far stuck to his promise of a total victory over Hamas. After that, Gaza could be ruled by a “non-Hamas civilian government with Israeli military responsibility, overall military responsibility,” he said in an interview with CNBC television on Wednesday.

Israeli officials said Palestinian clan leaders or other civil society figures may be recruited to fill the void, but there is no evidence that such leaders capable or willing to replace Hamas have been identified no friendly Arab countries have stepped forward to help.

“The options for Israel are either they end the war and withdraw, or they essentially establish a military government there and control the entire area for who knows how long, because as soon as they leave an area, Hamas will do so.” resurface,” said Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House.

GUERRILLA TACTICS

Gallant’s refusal to consider any form of permanent military government reflects the material and political costs of an operation that could put painful strains on the military and the economy, and evokes memories of Israel’s years-long occupation of southern Lebanon after the 1982 war.

Gaining full control of Gaza would require perhaps four divisions, or about 50,000 troops, said Michael Milshtein, a former intelligence officer and one of Israel’s top Hamas specialists.

While thousands of Hamas fighters have been killed in the election campaign and Israeli commanders say most of the movement’s organized battalions have been broken up, smaller groups have emerged in areas the army abandoned in the early stages of the war.

“They are a very flexible organization and can adapt very quickly,” Milshtein said. “They have adopted new patterns of guerrilla warfare.”

The cost to Israel of a sustained insurgency was made clear on Wednesday when five Israeli soldiers were killed by an Israeli tank in a so-called “friendly fire” incident as Israeli troops clashed in the Jabalia area north of Gaza City fought battles.

Israel’s military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said the military’s job was to “tear down the places where Hamas is returning and trying to regroup,” but he said any question of an alternative government to Hamas was a matter open to discussion political level.

Although most polls show Israelis still broadly support the war, that support has declined as the return of hostages is increasingly prioritized over the destruction of Hamas. If such incidents continue, it could further erode support.

A foretaste of the broader societal divisions likely to be unleashed was seen in the long-running dispute over the conscription of ultra-Orthodox Torah students into the military, a move supported by Gantz and his allies, as well as by many secular Israelis, but by Israelis Religious parties were strongly opposed.

Netanyahu has so far managed to avoid a strike by either side that could potentially lead to the downfall of his government.

But Gallant, who has already led a revolt against Netanyahu within the Cabinet last year over plans to curtail the power of judges, has repeatedly clashed with Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, and his latest challenge to the prime minister may not be his last.

(Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill in London; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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