Eisenkot castigates Netanyahu, urges elections this year, indicates National Unity party will leave coalition soon

War cabinet observer, Minister Gadi Eisenkot, speaks at the annual Meir Dagan conference at Netanya Academic College, May 29, 2024. (Courtesy)
War cabinet observer, Minister Gadi Eisenkot, speaks at the annual Meir Dagan conference at Netanya Academic College, May 29, 2024. (Courtesy)

War cabinet observer MK Gadi Eisenkot accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of having failed Israel on matters of both security and economy in an address at the annual Meir Dagan conference at the Netanya Academic College. He says the government must be replaced, and calls for elections before the end of the year.

In particular, Eisenkot, the number two to Benny Gantz in the National Unity party, criticizes Netanyahu for creating and pushing the “airy slogan of ‘total victory'” against Hamas and says that a war against terrorism is one of endurance, rather than speed.

Israel, he says, has taken the tactical matter of Rafiah, with three or four [Hamas] battalions, and turned it into a global hub and such a complex story. If we had [dealt with Rafah] at the right moment, with the right timing and with the right forces, it would have been a [relatively minor] tactical event.

“Anyone who says that we’ll disband three battalions in Rafah and after that be able to bring back the hostages is sowing false illusions,” he adds. “This is a much more complex event. The truth is that it will take three to five years to stabilize [Gaza], and then many more years to establish another government.”

He says it is clear that the government that was in power on October 7 “failed utterly” and that the massacre carried out by Hamas that day marked “the greatest failure since the establishment of the state.”

He says the return of the hostages is both “the highest moral imperative of the state, which failed in the defense of its citizens, and a paramount strategic obligation.”

He also criticizes Netanyahu for failing to achieve the promises he made in his 2022 election campaign — primarily to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia and to strengthen Israel’s economy.

One of Netanyahu’s main election promises was “the pursuit of peace with Saudi Arabia,” Eisenkot says, adding that “it seemed like we were a step away from a peace agreement.”

“Today it seems quite far away, both because of what happened here, and also as a result of Israel’s decisions regarding the order of priority for its national interests.”

“I think that peace with Saudi Arabia and a new hierarchy in the Middle East is a distinct Israeli interest,” Eisenkot says, explaining that it would work to counter the nuclear threat from Iran, something he also accuses Netanyahu of failing to achieve. A historic opportunity is being missed, he argues.

Finally, on the economy, he says that despite Netanyahu’s promises, “it is completely clear that the trends are negative, and the predicted future is not encouraging.”

Eisenkot makes clear that National Unity will leave the emergency war coalition in the near future, as Gantz has threatened to do. He says “our influence has been reduced” and that narrow political factors have become factors in coalition decisions.

He suggests that he and two other ministers are misrepresented as “three traitors who want to stop the war: Gantz, [Defense Minister Yoav] Gallant, Eisenkot, helped by [IDF hostage talks negotiator] Nitzan Alon, when inside the [war cabinet] room, the decision [on a possible framework for a hostage deal] was unanimous.”

“Have a little more patience,” Eisenkot says. “General elections are required between September and December.”

“It is very important that the intensive operation in Gaza end within weeks, that an agreed date be set for elections as early as possible… It will be a choice between the approach of Itamar Ben Gvir, the most influential minister on the prime minister, and the approach of the current Knesset majority.”

He adds: “To me, it’s clear that this government must be replaced, as soon as possible.”

Eisenkott says he hopes for a reorientation of Israeli politics to enable the representation of “the 80 percent of the Zionist majority that believes in a Jewish, democratic and liberal state.”

He also says that a state commission of inquiry into “everything related to October 7” must be established. It should investigate “the past 10-year period, including my term as IDF chief of staff… checking deeply into the conception” that led to Israel’s failure to thwart the Hamas massacre.

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