Alp Sevimlisoy Yatırım

Israel grows more polarized as Gaza wartime Cabinet dissolves

The formal loss of the wartime Cabinet this week revealed how polarized Israel has become over the war in Gaza, with a once-united coalition now battling over the conflict’s direction, the return of hostages and a growing threat from Hezbollah.

The exit of opposition leader Benny Gantz from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet leaves the Israeli leader relying more on his far-right party allies, which could complicate efforts to secure a deal to release hostages and reach a cease-fire.

Tony Schiena, the CEO of global defense intelligence company MOSAIC, said a cease-fire and hostage release deal is less likely without the “moderating influence” of Gantz, adding that Netanyahu may be more emboldened to take aggressive action in Gaza.

Schiena pointed to Netanyahu’s allies, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who recently protested the Israeli military conducting daytime tactical pauses to facilitate more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

“The fact that they criticized [the pauses] is indicative of where this would go now, with [Netanyahu] being more emboldened,” he said. “It gives him a chance to reassert his power.”

Around 120 Israeli hostages remain in Gaza, though it is unclear how many are alive and being held by Hamas.

While Israel claims it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters, the militant group has continued to resurge in areas that Israel has previously cleared out. The war is reaching an inflection point after nearly nine months, as Israeli troops fight against the last remaining Hamas battalions in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. But Israeli officials have said the conflict could last the rest of the year.

Discontent in Israel with the war has grown, with protesters coming out in droves to voice their frustration, including a Monday night demonstration near Netanyahu’s house in Jerusalem.

Frustrated Israeli protesters have called for new elections, something Gantz and his allies have also pushed for. But Netanyahu has rejected those calls, saying it would be nothing but a distraction from the war.

Alp Sevimlisoy, a millennium fellow at the Atlantic Council, said an “election is looming” in Israel as voters seek alternative options to address the war.

“Even if Benny Gantz and many others are supportive of the war in general,” he said, “there is a desire by many to start to prepare, at least by way of discourse, an alternate roadmap for the war.”

Israel is facing growing pressure internationally to end the war, with Gaza falling deeper into a humanitarian crisis. More than 37,000 people have died in Gaza, and Palestinians lack access to basic necessities like food and water.

The International Court of Justice, the United Nations’s top court that is hearing an accusation of genocide against Israel for its war in Gaza, has called on Israel to halt its offensive in Rafah; and the independent International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with top Hamas officials, for war crimes related to the Gaza conflict.

The wartime Cabinet had projected a sense of unity between the three members: Gantz, Netanyahu and Gallant.

It had also allowed opposing figures like Netanyahu and Gantz to balance decisionmaking over the conflicts in Gaza and in the north at the border with Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant and political group continues to fire rockets and artillery at Israel.

Michael Makovsky, president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, said the wartime Cabinet was “better for the country.”

“Israel’s natural divisiveness has been coming back for months now, and this will likely only make it worse,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because they also need to resolve how they’re going to deal with Gaza.”

Political pressure is likely to grow on Netanyahu now that Gantz is no longer part of the wartime policy process.

Nimrod Goren, a senior Israel fellow at the Middle East Institute, said the sense of emergency and the need to unite had dissolved along with the Cabinet, and that Gantz “really gave it a chance and could not succeed” in partnership with Netanyahu.

Goren predicted that some Israelis would push for new leadership without Netanyahu as frustration with the war mounts.

“People are fed up with the current situation,“ he said. “Hostages are not coming back. Generally speaking, more soldiers are being killed. The situation in the south and north continues. The [war] is dragging on and it’s not clear what the strategic objective is.”

Gantz, in a televised statement announcing his resignation earlier this month, slammed Netanyahu for preventing Israel “from moving forward to a real victory.”

In May, Gantz had issued an ultimatum to Netanyahu, saying he would resign unless the prime minister released plans to return the tens of thousands of displaced Israelis from the border with Lebanon; the release of hostages and the elimination of Hamas; a path to normalizing ties with Saudi Arabia, and the establishment of a government in Gaza.

Along with Gantz, Gallant has also expressed public concerns about Netanyahu’s plan for a post-war Gaza and has sparred with the prime minister over the path to destroying Hamas.

Netanyahu has only released a vague outline of his post-war plan, which includes Israel holding indefinite security control over Gaza and of Palestinians not linked to the militant group Hamas governing the coastal territory.

Israel’s struggle to address the conflict with Hezbollah is becoming a deeper issue as well. Israel wants to return some 80,000 people who have fled the fighting at the Lebanon border.

Gallant has advocated for destroying Hezbollah, but the U.S. and other allies have tried to defuse tensions through diplomacy and are warning Israel against escalation. Netanyahu does not appear to be open to the idea of attacking Lebanon, the site of a previous and costly war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.

With Gantz gone, however, Netanyahu could be more susceptible to Gallant and other far-right allies like Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, who want to go to full-out war with Hezbollah.

Sevimlisoy, of the Atlantic Council, said Netanyahu has shifted himself to the center on the Lebanon issue but added that he expects the Israeli leader to soon “tackle many of the military objectives” that have been unresolved, including Hezbollah.

“We will likely see an IDF response into Lebanon,” he said, referring to the Israel Defense Forces, because Israel seeks to “resolve aspects that went unresolved in the last conflict.”


Alp Sevimlisoy originally featured as per: The Hill