Benjamin Netanyahu stands strong as Israel's prime minister for now - despite cabinet threats

19 May 2024, 05:18 | Updated: 19 May 2024, 07:02

For months, the rift in Israel's war cabinet has been an open secret - this week it spilled out into the open, not once but twice.

On Wednesday evening defence minister Yoav Gallant took to national television and demanded that Netanyahu finally decide on a post-war plan for Gaza and reject any prospect of Israeli rule there.

On Saturday evening, war cabinet member Benny Gantz chose the same platform and issued Netanyahu with a six-point ultimatum, including bringing the hostages home and creating an international civilian governance mechanism to rule Gaza.

Netanyahu has already rejected it.

Both Gallant and Gantz are highly experienced military commanders and former chiefs of staff. It is unlikely either spoke out without the private support of some of the security establishment.

Gantz's threat to leave government by 8 June, if his demands are not met, makes for a dramatic headline but could be rather empty in reality.

Prior to 7 October he was an opposition leader, outside of government. He only came into the circle when he joined an emergency war cabinet following the attacks.

Gantz does not have the numbers to bring down the government; if he does leave, Netanyahu will resort to his pre-war majority of 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

But Gantz is seen by many, inside and outside Israel as the sensible head in the room; the acceptable face of this ultra-right Israeli coalition.

Netanyahu, who increasingly appears supine to the extreme nationalists he got into bed with, will only become more beholden to them without the moderating influence of Gantz.

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Gantz's departure would likely concern Washington, which already does not do business with many of the Israeli cabinet because of their extreme views and is managing a deteriorating relationship with Netanyahu.

It would not come as a surprise, however, if the White House was fully briefed ahead of Gantz's ultimatum.

Gantz is regularly Israel's most popular leader in polls, way ahead of Netanyahu.

Having been outside the government at the time, he is not tarnished by accusations of failure levelled at those in power on 7 October but he is clearly worried that he is being associated with the growing disillusion about the war and his reputation will be damaged.

His best hope is that he pulls much of the country with him and a decisive number of the Knesset too, because unless the rift in the war cabinet extends to Netanyahu's Likud party too, the prime minister stands strong for now.