Lapid: This is not a cabinet, it's a national disaster

Gantz warns Netanyahu to choose unity or politics after cabinet attacks on IDF chief

War cabinet minister blames PM for allowing ministers to assail Halevi at raucous meeting; Gallant backs Halevi, also calls to stop playing politics with the IDF during war

File - Minister Benny Gantz, right, shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File - Minister Benny Gantz, right, shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz on Friday warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to choose between unity or playing politics, as cracks widened in the emergency government cobbled together after the outbreak of the war with Hamas.

Gantz’s warning came as he blamed Netanyahu for allowing right-wing ministers to repeatedly assail the Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi during a fiery security cabinet meeting late Thursday.

Reports in Hebrew media outlets, which quoted unnamed participants, said Netanyahu cut off the meeting after three hours with shouting erupting as some ministers came to Halevi’s defense; he was not reported to have intervened to stop the assailing of the chief of staff. One minister told the Kan broadcaster that they understood the uproar “could be heard outside the room.” Another said some defense officials left early, in apparent protest of their treatment.

The security cabinet meeting was intended to discuss planning for the administration of Gaza following the war with the Hamas terror group, but ended in a loud and angry dustup between ministers and military brass after right-wing ministers cried foul over Halevi’s plan for the army to probe its own operational mistakes that led to the October 7 Hamas assault.

Asserting that Netanyahu was culpable for the ugly scenes, Gantz said in a video statement that it was now up to the premier to correct the mistake.

“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 — between unity and security or politics. If what is important now is security and unity, then we need to hold the essential meeting on the continuation of the fighting, and soon.”

Left to right: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Herzi Halevi, October 23, 2023. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Gantz conceded that ministers are supposed to ask questions and challenge the information provided to them by security chiefs at cabinet meetings, but “what happened yesterday was a politically motivated attack in the middle of a war.”

“I have participated in many cabinet meetings. Such conduct has never occurred and must not occur,” he said.

Gantz then defended Halevi’s decision to appoint a panel to probe the military’s failures ahead of October 7 when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists swept across the border, overrunning military bases and communities in southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking another 240 hostages.

The probe is meant to help the IDF identify shortcomings as it gears up for further fighting, including a possible expanded conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and is not meant to touch on political failures in the runup to October 7.

Gantz, the National Unity chairman — who agreed to join the government on an interim basis days after the war’s outbreak — also appeared to take a swipe at Netanyahu, who has refused to admit any real culpability for the failures that enabled the assault.

“It is good that the chief of staff, who knew how to take responsibility after the October 7 disaster, is taking responsibility and establishing a team that will produce operational lessons for the continuation of the fighting. This is his duty,” Gantz said.

“There is no doubt that after the war, a state commission of inquiry will be established to deal with everything that happened up to October 7, at all levels. But its main [focus] should be [the government’s role] and not on military operational matters. This is what the Israeli public demands, and above all — this is what it needs,” Gantz added.

Hardline lawmakers fumed over Halevi’s reported decision to have former chief of staff and defense minister Shaul Mofaz sit on the panel probing the IDF’s pre-October 7 failures due to his involvement in the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

But some of the criticism appeared motivated by fears that an IDF probe into its responsibility for October 7 would also look into the government’s role, or at the very least would lead to pressure for lawmakers to conduct the same type of investigation.

Netanyahu has insisted that such a probe can only take place after the war is over, as critics claim he is buying time in order to remain in office.

His Likud party later hit back at Gantz and defended the conduct of the right-wing ministers.

“The duty of the political and security cabinet is to ask questions and receive answers. This is not politics,” the Likud statement said.

“In wartime when the public is united, Gantz is expected to act responsibly and stop looking for excuses to break his promise to remain in the unity government until the end of the war,” the Likud statement adds.

Gantz’s call for Netanyahu to choose between security and politics did indeed renew speculation that the National Unity chairman is considering leaving the government.

Contrary to the Likud statement, though, Gantz did not pledge to stick around until the end of the war, instead leaving his commitment vague.

“Just as I knew when to enter it, I’ll know when to leave,” he has said when asked.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant broke with his party, issuing a statement late Friday in which he gave his backing to Halevi.

Defense Minister Yoav Galant speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem, on December 26, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)

“I spoke now with the Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, I gave him my backing and asked him to pass it on to the commanders and soldiers because I trust them and support the IDF. The people of Israel have a brave and measured chief of staff during a difficult war,” Gallant said.

“IDF soldiers fight for all the people of Israel and I appeal to all members of the public to stop irresponsibly using the IDF and its commanders for political gain,” he said.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir also waded into the debate after Gantz’s statement, accusing him of trying to silence debate. Ben Gvir also accused Gantz of pushing to let the Palestinian Authority take over Gaza after the war.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir greets people during a visit to Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, on January 5, 2024. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who had refused to join the unity government as long as the far-right parties remained, also attacked their behavior in the cabinet meeting, calling it “a descent to unprecedented depths.”

“In the midst of a war, ministers attack the chief of staff and the prime minister does nothing to oppose it,” he said.

“Ben Gvir, a terror supporter who never served in the military attacks Shaul Mofaz, the chief of staff during Operation Defensive Wall and a hero of Israel; other ministers try and humiliate IDF officers. This is not a cabinet, it’s a national disaster,” Lapid said.

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