ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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Ben Gvir demands Netanyahu add another minister to war cabinet to broaden opinions

National security minister, left out of narrow forum overseeing conflict with Hamas, accuses members, including PM, of having mishandled terror group for years and causing war

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, in the Knesset, Jerusalem on September 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, in the Knesset, Jerusalem on September 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on Monday demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu add a minister to the three-person war cabinet, accusing those already on the panel overseeing the war against Hamas of having harbored misconceptions that enabled the terror group to carry out its devastating attack on October 7.

Ben Gvir demanded that the additional member not be from the premier’s Likud party or Benny Gantz’s National Unity, which left the opposition to join an emergency government in the wake of the Hamas assault that killed over 1,400 people in Israel, the vast majority of them civilians.

“As a member of the coalition, a senior minister in the government, and a member of the cabinet, I accepted your unilateral decision on the composition of the ‘narrow cabinet’ which does not include me — the national security minister,” the leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party wrote in a letter to Netanyahu.

“I do not intend to confront you on the matter, despite the fact that it is appropriate that the position of the huge number of voters who put their trust in us and asked us to represent them should be heard in the limited cabinet,” Ben Gvir wrote.

Five National Unity lawmakers joined Netanyahu’s cabinet shortly after the Hamas massacre and Israel’s subsequent declaration of war, forming a national emergency government meant to add decades of high-level security experience to the management of the war and temper far-right influence.

The war cabinet is made up of Netanyahu, Gantz and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Gantz is a former IDF chief of staff and defense minister, and Gallant a former commander of the IDF Southern Command.

National Unity MK Gadi Eisenkot, also a former IDF chief of staff, and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, a Netanyahu confidant, are observers to the cabinet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the war cabinet at the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Netanyahu’s coalition already included the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, along with far-right Religious Zionism and Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit.

“I hereby demand that a member or even an observer be added to the cabinet,” Ben Gvir wrote, adding that Netanyahu should be the one to select the person.

He stipulated that the additional member of the war cabinet can be any coalition minister, “provided that another voice is heard, which is not part of the misconception we have been dragged into for years.”

Ben Gvir said that all the ministers currently on the war cabinet were part of what he termed the “concept camp,” those, he explained, “who for years claimed that Hamas was deterred, that payments to a terrorist organization would bring peace, those who fostered the policy of containment and sowed illusions that led to our current situation.”

Israel allowed Qatar to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in cash delivered by hand to Hamas authorities, in order to alleviate the dire economic circumstances in the Strip.

Questions about the war cabinet were already raised when Shas party leader MK Aryeh Deri attended its first meeting days after the attack. Deri, who is not a minister after the High Court of Justice ruled he cannot hold such an office due to his past criminal convictions, was reportedly invited to attend by Netanyahu. The move was said to draw anger from other ministers who were not included. Netanyahu reportedly explained that Deri’s presence was a one-off for just that meeting as it covered issues in which he had some experience, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Ben Gvir has had a rocky relationship with the security establishment despite his ministry overseeing the police force. He was repeatedly left out of top-level security meetings in the past, with insider sources telling media it was because he would disrupt the gatherings with unhelpful hardline suggestions. There were also reportedly concerns that Ben Gvir, whom critics accuse of seeking media attention, would leak details of meetings compromising sensitive operations.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to media from an IDF base in southern Israel, October 15, 2023. (Shachar Yurman/Defense Ministry)

Ben Gvir’s assignation of blame for the catastrophic Hamas assault in part to Netanyahu came after several senior defense officials have publicly assumed responsibility for the security failures that enabled Hamas to send over 2,500 gunmen across the heavily guarded border with Gaza into Israel and rampage for hours, overrunning communities and army posts, and slaughtering men, women, and children. In addition, at least 222 people, including the elderly, parents with young children, and babies, were abducted and dragged back to Gaza as captives.

The attack came under cover of a barrage of thousands of rockets at towns and cities across Israel. Hamas has kept up the rocket attacks on central and southern Israel. Some 200,000 people have been displaced as they flee the attacks.

Israel responded by vowing to destroy Hamas and began intensive strikes on terror targets in Gaza ahead of an expected ground invasion.

Last week the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, Maj. Gen Aharon Haliva, said he bears responsibility for intelligence failures that did not warn of the assault. He followed the head of the Shin Bet security agency and IDF chief of staff, who made similar remarks in the preceding days.

A handful of ministers have acknowledged and taken responsibility for the failures that contributed to the Hamas onslaught, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Education Minister Yoav Kisch and Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi speaks during a statement to the media in Tel Aviv on October 14, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi admitted the government “did not fulfill our mission.”

Pressed about the question of Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister for 12 of the past 15 years, taking direct responsibility for the situation, Hanegbi said, “The moment will come when everyone will deal with it, former and current prime ministers, army chiefs, defense ministers.”

The Ynet outlet reported Monday that there are two ministers who are reconsidering their positions within the government due to a sense of responsibility for the attack. In addition, the outlet said several coalition MKs are also having doubts about the situation. According to the report, which did not cite sources or name any of the alleged lawmakers, the MKs are also frustrated at the continuing disarray in government ministries since long before the war, with many key positions not filled due to infighting among officials.

One unnamed MK told Ynet, “We should have fought harder against the rot. The situation that we have reached is unbelievable. It simply must not be allowed to continue.”

The report cited a recent survey by Nimrod Nir, a political psychologist at the Hebrew University who sampled the opinions of 1,443 Jewish Israelis over several days since the war broke out.

He found that 75 percent hold Netanyahu responsible for the events of October 7. Likewise, over 70% saw Defense Minister Gallant as responsible. Among respondents, 66% felt that Netanyahu should resign when the conflict is over, and just 18% said he could stay. Even in Netanyahu’s own Likud party, over half believe he should go and just 32% felt he can continue to lead, the report said. Public opinion was 64% in favor of calling fresh elections, which would be the sixth round of voting in the past six years as repeated elections failed to produce a stable government.

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