Report: Netanyahu’s inner circle discussing ousting Gallant during Knesset recess

Defense minister said seen as thorn in coalition’s side, including on Haredi draft; sources close to PM deny report; premier reportedly mulling move to lure Sa’ar into government

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks during an assembly session in the plenum hall of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 10, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks during an assembly session in the plenum hall of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 10, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have reportedly been deliberating the possible ouster of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in the coming months, amid bad blood between the two and the defense minister’s insistence on moving ahead with enlisting young ultra-Orthodox men in the military, which could topple the government.

Channel 12 news, without citing sources, reported Wednesday that Netanyahu’s inner circle considers Gallant a renegade within the coalition due to positions that have often put him at odds with the premier, including on Haredi conscription, the war with Hamas in Gaza and the handling of disagreements with the US administration.

The report asserted Gallant’s ouster could happen during the Knesset’s summer recess, which lasts from the end of July until October 27, as even chaotic protests in response to the move would be less likely in that period to cause the government to collapse and trigger new elections.

According to the report, the prime minister’s inner circle plans to precede the move with an escalation of attacks on Gallant from within Likud — the defense minister’s and Netanyahu’s right-wing party — to make the ouster appear inevitable.

The network said sources close to Netanyahu denied the report, insisting there was no animosity between Gallant and the premier.

The television report came as Gallant faced intra-Likud attacks during a Knesset session on Wednesday, clashing with several of his own party’s backbenchers while fielding questions in the plenum.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant attend a press conference at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, October 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

He denied MK Avichai Boaron’s allegation that the Defense Ministry was preventing the promotion of army officers perceived as right-wing, eliciting interruptions from Boaron and several other lawmakers.

“Is this your commander’s spirit?” said MK Moshe Saada, also of Likud, from his seat in parliament. “Look the soldiers in the eyes,” he continued, decrying the “spirit of wishy-washiness” that he accused Gallant of fostering in the army.

“While you were sitting in air-conditioned offices, they were risking their lives day and night,” Gallant shot back.

“Don’t call them wishy-washy and don’t call them spineless — you’re doing a disservice to the IDF and its troops,” added Gallant, who is a former major general.

MK Moshe Saada attends an assembly session in the plenum hall at the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 10, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

During his remarks, Gallant said the Israel Defense Forces was gearing up to draft 3,000 ultra-Orthodox men hitherto exempt from military service. The issue has roiled the coalition, with ultra-Orthodox parties threatening to bolt the government as it has struggled to legislate the exemption, while the High Court has ordered funds be withheld from yeshivas whose students fail to enlist.

Gallant has insisted that legislation on the contentious issue advance only with broad support, including from the opposition. At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu and other ministers railed against Gallant’s stance, which the premier reportedly called “the height of cynicism and politicization.”

Hebrew media outlets have regularly quoted ministers’ broadsides at Gallant and other security officials. The reports also frequently quote Gallant defending the officials during cabinet meetings and criticizing Netanyahu for failing to rein in his ministers. According to Channel 12, Netanyahu’s inner circle suspects Gallant himself of being behind the leaks.

The defense minister was already a target of right-wing ire before the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, including from within Likud.

Right-wing activists demonstrate against Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 16, 2024. The writing on the street reads: ‘Gallant, quit,’ amid rightwing dismay at the defense minister’s exhortations against the judicial overhaul. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gallant was fired by Netanyahu in March 2023 after he called for the government to pause its controversial judicial overhaul legislation. He was reinstated a month later amid public outcry.

On Friday, four Likud backbenchers penned an open letter to Netanyahu urging him to oust Gallant and several top IDF officers. The lawmakers claimed the move was essential to defeat Israel’s enemies.

The report comes amid increasing tensions in the current 64-member coalition, with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party currently boycotting government votes.

Separately, the Kan public broadcaster reported that Netanyahu has recently been discussing a proposal to try to bring the four-seat New Hope party into the coalition by offering chair Gideon Sa’ar the post of justice minister, a portfolio he has held in the past.

New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, the report said that Netanyahu’s confidants believe that Sa’ar would only be tempted into the coalition if he was offered the defense portfolio. Kan noted the increasing strain between Netanyahu and Gallant, but said that the premier is hesitant to fire the defense minister amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

Sa’ar denied the report, telling Kan he is not in talks with Netanyahu and has not demanded to be defense minister.

Sa’ar’s party left the coalition in March following the dissolution of his political alliance with Benny Gantz and after his demands to be appointed to the high-level war cabinet were not met.

A Channel 12 poll last month found that a right-wing alliance led by Sa’ar, former prime minister Naftali Bennett, Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman and former Mossad director Yossi Cohen would be the largest faction in the Knesset, if elections were held then, winning 25 seats, while a Channel 13 news asking the same question found the prospective party would win 34 seats.

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