Israel’s defence minister lambasts Benjamin Netanyahu over lack of postwar plan

Israel’s defence minister on Wednesday directed stinging public criticism at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the lack of postwar planning for Gaza, as long-simmering tensions within the government burst into the open.

Yoav Gallant, who is from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said in a press conference that victory against Hamas could not be achieved through force of arms alone, but required an alternative governing structure for the strip.

“In the absence of such an alternative, only two negative options remain: Hamas’s rule in Gaza, or Israeli military rule in Gaza,” he said.

“The meaning of indecision is choosing one of the negative options. It would erode our military achievements, lessen the pressure on Hamas, and sabotage the chances of achieving a framework for the release of [Israeli] hostages,” said the former army general.

Since Hamas’s incursion into Israel triggered the war on October 7, Israel’s cabinet had refrained from dealing seriously with creating new governance structures in Gaza, said Gallant, who warned of creeping Israeli military rule over the shattered territory.

This, he said, had led to the erosion of Israel’s military gains within the besieged Palestinian enclave and allowed Hamas to reconstitute itself in areas vacated by Israeli forces.

Gallant called on the prime minister by name “to make a decision”, placing “national priorities above all other considerations, even with the possibility of personal or political costs”.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan have voiced similar concerns this week, while senior Israeli military officers have also been more vocal about what they said was a lack of strategic planning for Gaza by Israel’s government.

The US administration of Joe Biden, regional Arab states and other Israeli officials contend that the only realistic alternative to Hamas rule in Gaza is the Palestinian Authority. The PA, led by the secular nationalist Fatah movement, lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007.

In a recorded video issued on Wednesday, Netanyahu appeared defiant, arguing that any discussion of the “day after” Hamas was “simply detached from reality” before a full military victory by Israel in Gaza.

“I’m not willing to replace Hamas-tan with Fatah-stan,” Netanyahu said in a second video after Gallant’s comments.

“The first condition to prepare the ground for another [non-Hamas] actor is to eliminate Hamas. And to do this without excuses.”

Even the hawkish Gallant has privately indicated to officials that Gaza’s future administration would likely involve Palestinians affiliated with Fatah and linked in some way with the PA — a structure that Netanyahu, under pressure from far-right allies in his government, has consistently rejected.

Instead, Netanyahu has previously said that local Gazans linked neither to Hamas nor to the PA could govern the enclave in future. Most analysts have derided that plan as unrealistic, while one former Israeli intelligence official likened it to a search for non-existent “unicorns”.

Gallant on Wednesday linked the military effort to “dismantle” Hamas with the wider search for a governing alternative, a connection he said the Netanyahu cabinet had consistently avoided.

“The responsibility to dismantle Hamas . . . lies [with] the defence establishment and the [Israel Defense Forces]. Yet it depends on the creation of a governing alternative in Gaza, which rests on the shoulders of the Israeli government and all its various bodies,” he said.

The drift was leading towards Hamas’s resurgence or direct military rule by Israel, Gallant added. Direct military rule, he said, would quickly become the country’s main security challenge and exact a heavy cost both in lives lost and economically.

Local health officials in the Hamas-controlled territory have said that more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s military operations in Gaza since October 7, when the militant group launched a cross-border raid, killing 1,200 in Israel and taking 250 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Tensions have been running high within Israel’s five-person war cabinet for months over personal and political differences, while polls have showed Netanyahu and his ruling coalition are deeply unpopular with the public.

Netanyahu attempted to sack Gallant last year, before the war began, in the middle of his government’s bid to overhaul the judicial system, but mass nationwide protests ultimately forced the premier to backtrack on firing him.

Another member of the war cabinet, Benny Gantz, has been a longtime centrist rival to Netanyahu and only joined the governing coalition after the October 7 attack.

In his own statement later on Wednesday, Gantz, a former army chief, said Gallant was “speaking the truth — the leadership’s responsibility is to do the right thing for the country, at any price”.

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