‘You’re not the prime minister’: Netanyahu said to clash with Gallant before Doha talks

PM reportedly demanded direct oversight of meeting with Mossad and Shin Bet chiefs on truce-hostage negotiations; Likud backbenchers urge premier to oust Gallant, IDF chiefs

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a press conference in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a press conference in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Ongoing tensions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant have risen further in recent days amid potential progress toward a hostage release deal, according to a Friday report, with the Israeli leader allegedly barring Gallant from leading his own meeting with defense chiefs on the matter, and at one point telling him he was “not the prime minister.”

Mossad Director David Barnea flew to Doha and back on Friday to discuss the deal with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Abdulrahman Al Thani. After Barnea’s return, Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying that “gaps between the parties” remain, and that the Israeli delegation would attend follow-up negotiations in the coming week.

According to Channel 12, which did not cite sources, Gallant had in recent days planned to hold a meeting with Barnea and Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar to discuss the state of negotiations. Netanyahu, apparently feeling he was being sidelined, told Gallant he would be the one to lead such a meeting.

The network said Netanyahu complained that otherwise, “you come to me with everything already settled.”

Gallant reacted angrily to the premier’s move and said it made it difficult for the security establishment to prepare for the talks, Channel 12 reported, adding that he eventually did not attend the meeting led by Netanyahu.

Sources close to the Netanyahu claimed Gallant “finds it difficult to accept authority.”

A senior Israeli official told the Walla news site Friday that Netanyahu had dispatched his foreign policy aide Ophir Falk to join Barnea in Doha. Falk was sent to “supervise” Barnea in light of Netanyahu’s growing distrust of the hostage negotiating team, the official said.

Members of the negotiating team have periodically been speaking with the Israeli media on condition of anonymity, accusing Netanyahu of hampering the talks in order to ensure he stays in power.

Ronen Bar (left), head of the Shin Bet security services, speaks with Mossad chief David Barnea during the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Channel 12 said Netanyahu and Gallant have differing views on the new proposal submitted by Hamas in recent days, with Gallant believing Israel should move forward on an agreement, while Netanyahu feels Hamas’s latest offer includes demands Israel cannot accept and that further military pressure on the terror group is needed.

Israeli and US officials on Friday expressed cautious optimism about the talks, which have stalled since June. The current round of talks, based on an Israeli proposal outlined by US President Joe Biden in a May 31 speech, were reinvigorated over the past day after Israeli officials indicated that Hamas’s latest draft was workable.

Relations between Netanyahu and Gallant have long been uneasy, ever since Netanyahu briefly fired the minister in March 2023 after he publicly called to freeze the government’s contentious judicial overhaul, warning it was causing damage to national security. The dismissal exacerbated a wave of fierce protests and strikes and Netanyahu swiftly put much of the overhaul on ice and reinstated Gallant.

On Friday, four lawmakers from Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party — of which Gallant is also a member — penned a letter to the premier demanding he fire the top brass of Israel’s security establishment, including the defense minister, ahead of a potential offensive in Lebanon.

“Before we enter into such a significant campaign in Lebanon, we must conduct a system overhaul,” wrote backbencher MKs Tally Gotliv, Keti Shitrit, Ariel Kallner and Osher Shekalim. They asserted that replacing the top brass of Israel’s security establishment was essential for victory against the country’s enemies.

The hardline Likud lawmakers said IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi had failed to warn Netanyahu and Gallant about the impending Hamas attack on October 7, when the terror group led thousands in a cross-border assault on southern Israel that left nearly 1,200 people dead and saw 251 taken hostage, sparking the war in Gaza.

The lawmakers also criticized Halevi for ostensibly failing to inform the government of a decision to approve daily, localized pauses in the fighting to facilitate the delivery of aid throughout the southern Gaza Strip. The military said it was operating based on policy set by the government.

The lawmakers attacked IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari for declaring during a media interview in June that it was impossible to utterly destroy Hamas, when the government has made Hamas’s destruction one of its primary war aims.

Likud MK Tally Gotliv in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on January 29, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The letter also claimed — without any clear basis — that IDF Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi has been “tying the hands of soldiers and granting immunity to terrorists.” Skepticism of the need for Israel to comply with international law has become a refrain among Israel’s right-wing in recent years.

The lawmakers also urged Netanyahu to replace Gallant — a former major general in the army — with someone from outside the security establishment.

The far right has grown increasingly leery of the leadership of the IDF, the Shin Bet and Mossad. MK Gotliv, one of the letter’s signatories, has repeatedly pushed a baseless conspiracy theory whereby the Shin Bet and Mossad were in cahoots with anti-government protest leaders to weaken Israel’s defenses before October 7 and derail the government’s planned judicial overhaul.

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