As cracks widen in coalition, National Unity members skip cabinet meeting

Ministers’ absence from meeting linked to recent ‘clashes in the cabinet,’ says Chili Tropper, whose party leader, Benny Gantz, slammed Netanyahu for attacks on military

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, leads a cabinet meeting at the Kirya IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 7, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, leads a cabinet meeting at the Kirya IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 7, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Only days after a meeting called to deal with the question of postwar Gaza ended in acrimony and recriminations, three ministers from Benny Gantz’s National Unity party skipped Sunday’s cabinet meeting, highlighting the growing tensions between the factions comprising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wartime cabinet.

Gantz, Gadi Eisenkot and Chili Tropper — all members of National Unity’s centrist Blue and White faction — did not attend Sunday’s weekly meeting of ministers due to an expected lack of substantive discussion of war-related issues.

“There were no essential issues for the conduct of the war and therefore we did not come,” a spokesman for Gantz told The Times of Israel. “When topics related to the war come up, Benny will come.”

Speaking with Army Radio on Sunday, Tropper linked his absence to last Thursday’s security cabinet meeting, during which right-wing ministers repeatedly assailed IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi over the military’s plan to probe its own mistakes in the lead-up to Hamas’s devastating October 7 onslaught.

“These things are related to the clashes in the cabinet,” Tropper said. “We are sticking to issues related to the war. It isn’t easy for us in the government.”

In further comments during an interview with national broadcaster Kan, Tropper declared that he didn’t know “how long we will be in the government; I only know that we entered for the good of the country and our exit will also be related to the good of the country.”

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz gives a statement on January 4, 2024. (Courtesy)

Thursday’s meeting, which had been convened to discuss Israel’s postwar plans for the Gaza Strip, erupted into a loud and angry dustup between ministers and military brass, prompting Gantz to warn Netanyahu that he had to choose between unity and playing politics.

Asserting that the prime minister was culpable for the ugly scenes, Gantz said in a video statement Friday that it was up to the premier to correct the mistake, which he described as “a politically motivated attack in the middle of a war.”

“The cabinet was supposed to discuss strategic processes that will affect the continuation of the campaign and our security in the future. That didn’t happen, and the prime minister is responsible for that,” said Gantz. “It is his responsibility to fix this, and to choose — unity and security or politics. If what is important now is security and unity, then we need to hold an essential meeting on the continuation of the fighting, and soon.”

Prior to last week’s dispute, Gantz had also clashed with the government over National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s decision not to extend Israel Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry’s tenure, a move the National Unity party leader warned would harm security.

Commenting on that issue late last month, Gantz declared, “We are not in the government to stay, but rather so we will win” the war.

Despite the growing tension, Gantz appeared to defend Netanyahu on Sunday, following the publication of a Washington Post report that speculated that the premier may launch a war against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon in order to improve his political standing.

“The only consideration [regarding the situation in the north] here is Israel’s security, and nothing else. That is our duty to our country and our citizens,” Gantz stated in a post on social media platform X.

In his remarks at the opening on Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu appeared to refer to the fractures in his government, declaring that “it is necessary to put every other consideration aside, and continue together until absolute victory.”

Jacob Magid and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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