Op-ed: Day 225 of the warBoth PM's war cabinet colleagues have now sounded the alarm

Fearing disaster for Israel, Gantz issues an ultimatum, but he doesn’t have the votes

If necessary, Netanyahu can simply shrug off Gantz and return to his core, 64-strong pre-war coalition. It’s only from within that it can be brought down

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, May 18, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, May 18, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The State of Israel is “heading for the rocks,” war cabinet minister Benny Gantz told the nation on Saturday.

A small minority of “zealots” has taken the helm, Gantz warned.

And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, once “a leader and an Israeli patriot,” has enabled them to do so, putting his personal and political interests ahead of the existential needs of the state, Gantz charged.

The National Unity party leader, a former IDF chief of staff who failed repeatedly in recent years to unseat Netanyahu at the ballot box, joined forces with him in an emergency war coalition days after Hamas’s devastating invasion and slaughter in southern Israel on October 7. But the benefits of that partnership — including a genuine spirit of unity and the initial avoidance of mistakes in the subsequent, ongoing war against Hamas — have long since dissipated, said Gantz. And now Netanyahu is failing to carry out the “acts of leadership needed to guarantee victory.”

Gantz’s televised address came just three days after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of the prime minister’s own Likud party, issued a similar denunciation of Netanyahu’s governance, or lack thereof. Thus both of Netanyahu’s ministerial colleagues in the key, three-strong war cabinet have now told the public that the prime minister is leading Israel to disaster.

Gallant demanded that Netanyahu publicly rule out long-term Israeli civil or military governance of Gaza, as sought by far-right elements in the coalition, saying he simply “will not agree” to it. Gantz, for his part, required Netanyahu to commit to six specific strategic goals for the nation, and warned that his party would bolt the government if the prime minister did not do so by June 8.

On the face of it, Gantz has more political leverage than Gallant (who was fired by Netanyahu 14 months ago, when he correctly warned that the coalition’s ultra-divisive judicial overhaul plans were undermining Israel’s security, and reinstated two weeks later). Without the eight seats in the 120-member Knesset that Gantz’s broadly centrist National Unity Party gives the coalition, Netanyahu would be returned to the 64-member right, far-right and ultra-Orthodox bloc with which he won the November 2022 election, and thus more nakedly vulnerable to the pressures and demands of his extremist partners. Such a government is likely to leak international support even faster than the current one has managed, and face far sharper pressure from key global partners, including in Washington.

But the fact is that Netanyahu has deferred to the far-right and the ultra-Orthodox even since his coalition took office. And although every political poll since the October catastrophe has indicated that Gantz would win elections if they were held today, he does not currently have the Knesset numbers to bring that coalition down.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a video statement, May 5, 2024 (Screen grab via Government Press Office)

Gantz’s six strategic demands would be near-impossible for Netanyahu to approve even if he wanted to. And the prime minister has long made plain that he does not want to.

Gantz requires him, for instance, to commit to potential normalization with Saudi Arabia. But this is conditioned by the Saudis on at least some headway toward Palestinian statehood, and were Netanyahu to go along with it, he would lose the two far-right parties led by Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

Likewise, Gantz required him to adopt “a framework for [military/national] service under which all Israelis will serve the state.” But this laudable and necessary goal is opposed by the two ultra-Orthodox parties, whose young male voters are almost all currently exempted from any form of national service. Those parties, too, would likely bolt the coalition if Netanyahu insisted on drafting their constituents.

Gantz knows all this. He knows that Netanyahu can simply ignore his ultimatum, and continue to favor the far-right and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant delivers a statement to the press at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

And thus for all the earnest sincerity and urgency with which he delivered his ultimatum, and his genuine fears for the destiny of the nation  — an Israel that is deeply embroiled in Gaza with its hostages still in Hamas hands, that is facing escalation with Hezbollah across the northern border, and that is hemorrhaging global empathy and partial support in almost every sphere — he gave Netanyahu three full weeks to try to sort things out. Otherwise, “we will be forced to leave the government,” he said, with as much conviction as he could muster.

Maybe he’ll go through with the threat. Maybe he won’t. Netanyahu, who will depict him as undermining the war effort rather than seeking to save the country, can move on regardless.

And thus it could well be that Gantz’s ostensibly dramatic ultimatum that Netanyahu fix things by June 8 is, if anything, a less potent threat than Gallant’s declaration that he personally won’t accept the prime minister’s insistent indecision and kowtowing to the coalition extremists.

Netanyahu will continue to hold Israel’s destiny in his grasp until the Knesset arithmetic changes. And that won’t happen unless, somewhere in that core 64-strong coalition bloc, a handful of MKs heed the dire warnings issued first by Gallant, one of their own, and recognize that, under Netanyahu, the ship of state is indeed heading for the rocks.

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