Far-right leaders slam Gantz’s exit from government, but hail ‘big opportunity’

Ben Gvir claims the outgoing war cabinet minster’s centrist party ‘put a spoke in the wheels of the war machine’ in recent months

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"

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz attends a plenum session and a vote on reviving the Ultra Orthodox enlistment bill at the assembly hall of the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 11, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz attends a plenum session and a vote on reviving the Ultra Orthodox enlistment bill at the assembly hall of the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 11, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right partners, slammed former war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz on Monday for leaving the coalition, while also criticizing his record during his eight months in the government.

Addressing the press at his Religious Zionism party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, Smotrich excoriated Gantz over his National Unity party’s withdrawal from the coalition Sunday evening, calling it “the least statesmanlike act” possible and accusing him and his allies Gadi Eisenkot and Chili Tropper of placing “personal and political considerations over the national interest.”

Responsibility for October 7 and any mistakes made during the war also belong to Gantz and Eisenkot, who, as former IDF chiefs of staff, “held the most senior positions in the security establishment in the last decade, and were partners in the war cabinet and all the decisions made in it,” Smotrich claimed.

Gantz was one of three voting members of the war cabinet, alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Eisenkot was an observer in the narrow decision-making forum.

Accusing Gantz of seeking “to establish a Palestinian state in the heart of the land that would pose an existential danger to the State of Israel,” Smotrich claimed, without offering evidence, that his party had “succeeded in thwarting Gantz’s demand for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the government.”

“Even if they launder it and call it all kinds of names [like] the day after, a political initiative or a regional solution, it is impossible to hide the truth that the steps Gantz is pushing for are the establishment of a monster of terror” adjacent to Israel, he said.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich addresses the press ahead of his Religious Zionism’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, June 10, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

“I hope and believe that the departure of Gantz and Eisenkot will allow us to act in a much more decisive and determined manner against the Palestinian Authority, which is behind the campaign of persecution at the International Court of Justice in The Hague,” he said.

For his part, Ben Gvir described Gantz’s departure as “a very big opportunity,” arguing that in recent months the former minister’s centrist party had “put a spoke in the wheels of the war machine.”

A spot in the war cabinet

Speaking to reporters ahead of his own far-right Otzma Yehudit party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, Ben Gvir said that he believed “the solution is really that we will enter this [war] cabinet and be able to have even more influence.”

“The people of Israel want victory in the south, the people of Israel want victory in the north, the people of Israel want to stop the fuel and humanitarian policy, most of which ultimately goes to Hamas. This is not how a country that wants to win behaves,” Ben Gvir continued.

Asked about his demands for a seat in the war cabinet, Ben Gvir replied with a smirk that he “does not speak to the prime minister with threats, but I’m guessing that the prime minister will understand my words.”

“I am demanding it all the time,” he added.

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting of the Otzma Yehudit party at the Knesset, June 10, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Ahead of Gantz’s resignation yesterday, Ben Gvir stated that he would demand increased say over government decisions, including in the war cabinet.

When National Unity first joined the government in the wake of October 7, Ben Gvir demanded that a representative of his party be part of the newly formed war cabinet. He was denied his request.

An expected exit

Blaming Netanyahu for preventing Israel from achieving “true victory” in its war against Hamas, Gantz announced his party’s long-anticipated withdrawal from the government on Sunday.

His announcement came only weeks after he went on television to issue an ultimatum to Netanyahu, threatening to withdraw from the coalition unless the premier committed to “a plan of action” to accomplish a number of goals by June 8 — including advancing normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia and “creat[ing] an international civilian governance mechanism for Gaza.”

National Unity chairman Benny Gantz announces his party’s withdrawal from the government during a press conference at Kfar Maccabiah, June 9, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

Netanyahu swiftly dismissed and never entertained Gantz’s demands.

Gantz’s party later submitted legislation to dissolve the Knesset, in a clear indication that the alliance was nearing its end.

A tepid welcome

The initial reaction to Gantz’s resignation among opposition parties was mostly lukewarm, with hawkish Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman tweeting on Sunday evening that it was “better late than never” and Labor Party leader Yair Golan complaining that Gantz’s decision had come “too late.”

Despite this, Liberman on Monday announced that he planned on meeting with Gantz on Tuesday and would invite him to a joint war room with other opposition parties “in order to work to replace the government.”

In comments to the press ahead of his centrist Yesh Atid party’s faction meeting on Monday, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid was more optimistic about Gantz’s departure.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid leads a meeting of his Yesh Atid party at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 10, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

Asked if he envisioned any competition for the de facto leadership of the opposition in the wake of Gantz’s exit from the coalition yesterday, Lapid responded that the two planned to meet and that he intended to “work together” to topple the government.

He said Gantz’s resignation marked one of the first cracks to appear in the coalition. As long as Gantz had been part of the government, it was impossible to topple Netanyahu.

However, while now possible, this “won’t happen in a day,” Lapid added.

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