After Eisenkot critique, official says PM guiding ‘deep, serious’ debates on Gaza

War cabinet member continues to criticize management of war, saying Netanyahu won’t make crucial calls on who will replace Hamas in the Strip when it’s over

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

War cabinet Minister Gadi Eisenkot speaks at Reichman University in Herzliya, February 6, 2024. (Gilad Kavalerchik/ Reichman University)
War cabinet Minister Gadi Eisenkot speaks at Reichman University in Herzliya, February 6, 2024. (Gilad Kavalerchik/ Reichman University)

In the wake of criticism by a prominent member of the war cabinet that Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to make crucial decisions, an Israeli official responded to The Times of Israel that the prime minister is behind intensive debates and studies being performed on the future of Gaza.

“The person who initiated all the staff work in the National Security Council and the Strategic Affairs Ministry, and the security bodies, including the IDF, is Netanyahu,” said the official on Thursday.

“The person who instructed everyone to do those discussions is the prime minister,” the official continued. “These are very deep and very serious discussions.”

Earlier in the day, Kan news reported that Gadi Eisenkot, an observer in the war cabinet, had accused Netanyahu of wasting time in the war against Hamas and expressed concern that major decisions were being made unilaterally, when they were made at all.

The report quoted Eisenkot, a former IDF chief of staff, as telling his National Unity party colleagues in a faction meeting Wednesday that “the prime minister is procrastinating.”

“He does not consult and he does not make decisions on crucial issues,” Eisenkot said, adding that Hamas was benefiting from this inaction.

“Netanyahu is not deciding who will replace Hamas and this is leading to the fact that about 60 percent of the aid [entering Gaza] is ending up in the hands of Hamas,” Eisenkot said, according to Kan.

War cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot speaks to Channel 12’s Uvda program in a segment that aired January 18, 2024. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“With the prime minister taking his time and not making decisions on the important issues, Hamas is restoring some of its capabilities, returning to the north of the Gaza Strip, and taking over the humanitarian aid,” he said.

His comments came amid reports that Israel is not currently interested in renewed negotiations with Hamas for a hostage release deal, based on what Israel calls “delusional” demands.

Hamas in recent days offered its response to a framework proposal by Israel and mediators Egypt and Qatar. Reports on that response have indicated the terror group is proposing a four-and-a-half-month truce during which hostages would be freed in three stages, and which would lead to an end to the war. It is also seeking the release of 1,500 prisoners from Israeli jails, a third of whom it wants to select from a list of Palestinians serving life sentences.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Netanyahu rejected Hamas’s conditions for a new hostage deal, arguing that only military pressure will secure the release of the Israelis being held captive in the Gaza Strip.

The war cabinet met on Thursday to officially formulate Israel’s response.

This is not the first time Eisenkot has criticized the war effort.

In January, Eisenkot said in an interview that it was accurate to speak of far-reaching success over Hamas in northern Gaza, but “whoever speaks of the absolute defeat [of Hamas in Gaza] and of it no longer having the will or the capability [to harm Israel], is not speaking the truth. That is why we should not tell tall tales.”

He elaborated: “Today, the situation already in the Gaza Strip is that the goals of the war have not yet been achieved, but the war is already not happening. There is a reduced troop deployment, a different modus operandi.”

Kan reported that there was general dissatisfaction in the National Unity party with the way Israel was responding to Hamas’s latest offer. While the party generally agreed with comments made by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant largely rejecting the proposal, they were perturbed that these were made before consulting or discussing the issue in the war cabinet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem, February 7, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

Eisenkot’s criticism adds to mounting tensions between National Unity and the right-wing coalition the party joined at the start of the war, which erupted on October 7 after the Hamas onslaught on southern Israel that killed some 1,200 people and saw 253 taken hostage to Gaza.

Party leader Benny Gantz appeared to bash Netanyahu during a press conference on Tuesday evening, accusing coalition lawmakers of sowing division among the public in recent days with inflammatory statements and attacks on the IDF.

Gantz, who brought his National Unity party into Netanyahu’s government days after the October 7 terror onslaught, condemned those in the government “who are conducting divisive discourse in the Knesset, who turn cabinet meetings into attacks on the military, who compare TV studios to our enemies, to those who murdered our sons and daughters.”

Although he did not single out any lawmakers by name, Gantz’s comments appeared to be partly aimed at Netanyahu himself, who has complained of being attacked by the press.

Telling his fellow lawmakers that “being a public leader in a time of crisis is a great responsibility,” Gantz called Tuesday for everyone “from all sides of the political map, just before you speak — think about the soldiers and the hostages, think about where we ended up and why.”

“The citizens of Israel deserve more from us than this,” he added.

Minister Benny Gantz with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In the first few weeks after National Unity joined the government, Gantz and Netanyahu displayed a united front, appearing together in press conferences along with Gallant and seeming to agree on core matters relating to the war.

However, as political disagreements began to resurface in the Knesset, so too have tensions between Gantz and Netanyahu, with the former soaring in public opinion polls while Likud and its leader have dropped sharply.

As the strains between Gantz and Netanyahu became visible, with the two criticizing each other in carefully worded statements on various issues that have split public opinion, there has been growing speculation on how much longer the delicate partnership will last.

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