May 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Israeli defense chief unloads on Bibi over lack of post-war plan

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, dressed in black, shakes the hand of an Israeli soldier.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets soldiers on the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip last October. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israel's defense chief warned in a dramatic speech Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's inaction on a post-war plan for Gaza is pushing Israel toward having to impose military and civilian rule over the enclave.

Why it matters: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant's remarks were a public indictment of Netanyahu's war policy, exposing some officials' frustration that he hasn't set a clear strategy for Gaza's future.

  • Gallant's comments also shed light on the deepening political divisions in Israel's war cabinet, where relations between officials are disintegrating after more than seven months of fighting Hamas.
  • "Indecision is, in essence, a decision," Gallant said. "This leads to a dangerous course, which promotes the idea of Israeli military and civilian governance in Gaza."
  • Netanyahu has rejected such calls for action, saying there's no point in drafting a post-war plan before Hamas is completely defeated.

Zoom in: The main point of contention between Gallant and Netanyahu is whether the Palestinian Authority (PA) is Israel's partner or an enemy in setting a new course for Gaza.

  • Gallant's view that the PA should be a partner is shared by most of Israel's security establishment and its intelligence community, and most of the war cabinet.
  • Netanyahu and his far-right allies see the PA as a supporter of terrorism and are reluctant to have it assume any leadership role in post-war Gaza.

What they're saying: A senior U.S. official told Axios after Gallant's speech that the Biden administration agrees with the defense minister's comments.

  • "We share his concern that Israel has not developed any plans for holding and governing territory the (Israeli Defense Forces) clears, thereby allowing Hamas to regenerate in those areas," the U.S. official said. "Our objective is to see Hamas defeated."
  • Secretary of State Tony Blinken said earlier Wednesday the U.S. won't support an Israeli occupation of Gaza, the continuation of Hamas rule or anarchy and chaos in the enclave.
  • "This emphasizes the need for a clear day-after plan for Gaza," he said. "Israel should focus on that."

Gallant said any scenario leading to Israel having to impose military and civilian control in Gaza would erode Israel's military power and its economy, and cost many Israeli soldiers' lives.

  • "I call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza strip, that Israel will not establish military governance in the Gaza strip, and that a governing alternative to Hamas in the Gaza strip will be raised immediately," Gallant said.

Flashback: Gallant's speech was similar to the one he gave last March, seven months before Hamas attacked Israel and ignited the war.

  • In his previous speech, Gallant warned that Netanyahu's judicial overhaul was an immediate threat to Israel's national security.
  • A day later Netanyahu fired him, but walked back that decision after mass demonstrations and pressure from President Biden.
  • On Wednesday, Netanyahu's ultranationalist coalition partners Itamar Ben Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich — along with some members of the prime minister's party — called on Netanyahu to fire Gallant.

Between the lines: Gallant has been urging Netanyahu since late 2023 to draft a post-war plan for Gaza that could help create a Palestinian alternative to Hamas' rule.

  • Gallant claimed during cabinet meetings that the PA is the only viable alternative and urged Netanyahu to integrate it into his strategy.
  • Israel's military and intelligence services echoed that recommendation, and have warned Netanyahu that Hamas could resurface in Gaza without a post-war plan in place.

Shortly after Gallant's speech Netanyahu said in a video that he opposes any role for the PA in Gaza.

  • "I will not replace Hamastan with Fatahstan," Netanyahu said, arguing that the PA has supported and funded terrorism.

Behind the scenes: A Gallant aide said the defense minister went public with his concerns because Israel is at a crucial point regarding an invasion of Rafah, a city of 1 million in southern Gaza.

  • Gallant fears that without a clear strategy, Israel is drifting toward having to impose military and civilian rule in Gaza without anyone actually deciding to do it, the aide said.
  • "This current trajectory serves the interest of the most radical elements in the Israeli government — Itamar Ben Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich — who fantasize about full Israeli control over Gaza and rebuilding of settlements," the aide said.

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