Israeli Defense Boss Challenges Netanyahu Over Gaza Endgame

Israeli Ministry of Defense / Handout /Anadolu via Getty Images
Israeli Ministry of Defense / Handout /Anadolu via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own defense chief publicly challenged him on Wednesday over his post-war plans for Gaza, saying he’d oppose direct Israeli military rule over the Palestinian enclave once the dust has settled.

Yoav Gallant called on Netanyahu “⁠to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza Strip, that Israel will not establish military governance in the Gaza Strip, and that a governing alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be raised immediately.”

Gallant’s idea for a governing alternative is “simple,” he told a Washington Post columnist this week. “We will not allow Hamas to control Gaza. We don’t want Israel to control it, either. What is the solution? Local Palestinian actors backed by international actors.”

In his televised speech at the HaKirya, a major Israeli military base in Tel Aviv, Gallant’s frustration was obvious, remarking that he’d been raising the matter consistently in the war cabinet since October. He pointed out the “dangerous course” that imposing a “civilian-military regime in Gaza” would trigger, warning that Israeli rule could allow Hamas to fester and regroup.

“We will pay for it in blood and victims, and it will come at a heavy economic cost,” he said.

Plans for the so-called “day after” in Gaza have long been unclear, with Netanyahu declining to outline his position, dismissing any discussions as long as the war is ongoing as no more than “empty words.”

In apparent response to Gallant’s confrontation, Netanyahu said in a video statement on Wednesday that he would accept neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority as legitimate governing entities. “I’m not willing to replace Hamas-tan with Fatah-stan,” he said, referring to Fatah, the PA’s dominant political party.

But the “first condition” was to eliminate Hamas “without excuses,” he said.

Gallant’s challenge marks the clearest sign yet of the divisions within Netanyahu’s five-person cabinet. On the defense chief’s side was Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, who said that his fellow senior minister had “[spoken] the truth.”

But Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister, and Shlomo Karhi, communications minister, both came out in opposition to Gallant, with Ben-Gvir characterizing him as “the minister of defense who failed on October 7 and continues to fail today.”

Both Ben-Gvir and Karhi called for Netanyahu to replace Gallant, something he’s already unsuccessfully tried once before, in March 2023 before the beginning of the war. Gallant’s dismissal proved so deeply unpopular that Netanyahu was forced to reverse course and reinstate him.

Gallant’s call echoed that of Biden administration officials, who have long suggested that the PA would be the only realistic, workable alternative to Hamas for rule in Gaza. On Monday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that any military operation “has got to be connected to a strategic endgame that answers the question: What comes next?”

Sullivan added, “We want an outcome in which the page gets turned.”

Hamas officials have said that more than 35,000 Gazans have been killed by Israel since the attacks of Oct. 7, when the Palestinian militant group surged over the border to kill 1,200 and take more than 250 hostages. As of February, 112 hostages had been released. Around 100 are believed to be alive and still being held hostage in Gaza.

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