Gantz scraps anticipated resignation announcement following news of hostages’ rescue

War cabinet member was expected to quit government after PM failed to present ‘day after’ Gaza plan by deadline he set; unclear if press conference will be rescheduled

National Unity party chief Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, May 18, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
National Unity party chief Benny Gantz holds a press conference in Ramat Gan, May 18, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

War cabinet member Benny Gantz on Saturday canceled a news conference planned for the evening, during which he was expected to announce his National Unity party was leaving the government.

The decision came after the military’s surprise announcement Saturday afternoon that special forces operating in central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp rescued four hostages kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on October 7 from the Supernova musical festival near Kibbutz Re’im: Noa Argamani, Almog Meir Jan, Andrey Kozlov, and Shlomi Ziv. Initial assessments found them to be in good condition, and they were taken for further evaluation at a hospital, where they were reunited with their families after eight months in captivity.

It was not immediately clear if Gantz would reschedule the press conference for another time.

In a May 18 speech, Gantz issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, demanding the premier present an agreed-upon vision for Gaza’s post-war governance. If Netanyahu failed to do so by June 8, the former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff threatened to pull his centrist National Unity party out of the government.

National Unity joined the government days after October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists who stormed into southern Israel killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 251 hostages into the Gaza Strip, sparking the ongoing war in the enclave.

Upon entering the government, Gantz was made a member of a newly founded narrow war cabinet, while the party’s No. 2, fellow former military chief Gadi Eisenkot, was made an observer. New Hope, an erstwhile right-leaning faction of the centrist party, quit the government in March, after its leader Gideon Sa’ar’s demand for a spot on the war cabinet went ignored.

Hostages rescued in an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip on June 8: Shlomi Ziv (top left), Andrey Kozlov (top right), Almog Meir (bottom left), and Noa Argamani.

After joining the government, opinion polls showed Gantz’s popularity soaring compared with Netanyahu’s. However, recent surveys have found him shedding support, with one recent television poll showing that Netanyahu had surpassed Gantz as the more popular choice for prime minister for the first time in a year. The news network surmised that the dip was a result of Gantz’s ultimatum to Netanyahu, which led the centrist leader to shed the support he had accrued with his ostensibly statesmanlike decision to join the government after October 7.

National Unity’s exit would not have toppled the government, which holds 64 of 120 Knesset seats without the centrist party. Gantz has come under pressure to remain in the government as a counterweight to Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who fiercely oppose an end to the fighting in Gaza, even as part of a deal to release the hostages.

It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released before that.

Rescued hostage Noa Argamani is seen reunited with her father, June 8, 2024. (Courtesy)

Seven hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 41 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown. Hamas has also been holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

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