Jun 7, 2024 - World

Israeli minister Benny Gantz expected to announce exit from Netanyahu's coalition

 Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet, talks to the media after a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at the U.S. Capitol on March 04, 2024

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's War Cabinet, talks to the media at the U.S. Capitol on Mar. 04, 2024. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Israeli minister Benny Gantz is expected to announce in a speech on Saturday his party's withdrawal from the emergency government formed after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, according to political sources close to Gantz.

Why it matters: Gantz's move wouldn't bring down Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, which still holds a 64-member majority in the Knesset. But it would likely destabilize the government and exacerbate the political crisis in Israel as the war in Gaza continues and as hostage and ceasefire negotiations are ongoing.

  • Gantz, who is a member of Netanyahu's war cabinet, is seen by the Biden administration and many other Western and Arab governments as a moderate. His departure is likely to increase U.S. and international pressure on Netanyahu.

Catch up quick: Gantz joined the emergency government created four days after the Oct. 7 attack when Netanyahu and the members of his government were shocked and overwhelmed by events.

  • When Gantz joined the government, Netanyahu formed a war cabinet that sidelined the radical right members of the coalition and gave Gantz and his party member Gadi Eizenkot — both former Israel Defense Chiefs of staff — influence over decision making.
  • Gantz's decision to join the emergency government was very popular among people in Israel who saw it as a sign of unity and patriotism during the worst crisis in Israel's history.
  • As a result, Gantz received a huge boost in the polls late last year, with his party getting up to 40 seats in some polls and with close to 50% of Israelis saying he should be the next country's next prime minister.

But as the war continued Netanyahu slowly recuperated politically. The prime minister then started violating many of the agreements between him and Gantz and took steps to sideline the minister and diminish his influence.

  • Under attack from Netanyahu's supporters and growing criticism from his own voters, Gantz's polling numbers started to slip. In recent polls, his party got only 25 seats and in some polls, Netanyahu passed Gantz in his favorability numbers.

Driving the news: In a May 18 speech, Gantz gave an ultimatum to Netanyahu and said his party will leave the government if the cabinet doesn't approve a strategy for the war in Gaza by June 8.

  • Gantz said in his speech that an extremist minority took over the decision-making "and is taking Israel into a wall." He was referring to Netanyahu's political allies and ultranationalist ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

Behind the scenes: Gantz's likely exit from the coalition comes as the Biden administration is pushing hard for a hostage and ceasefire deal in Gaza — one of the key points in Gantz's ultimatum to Netanyahu.

  • Earlier this week, Gantz spoke to senior Biden administration officials, told them about his imminent decision and asked for their opinion, a source with knowledge told Axios.
  • Senior U.S. officials told Gantz it is his call and stressed they are not going to intervene in a domestic Israeli political issue. At the same time, they mentioned the hostage deal negotiations are at a very sensitive point, the source said.
  • Gantz declined to comment for this story.

What to watch: With Gantz's withdrawal, Netanyahu's government would be dominated even more Ben Gvir and Smotrich, who will likely increase pressure on the prime minister to take an even more hardline approach to the war in Gaza, take steps against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and escalate attacks against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

  • Gantz's exit would also likely lead Netanyahu to dismantle the war cabinet and make decisions mostly with his Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant and his confidant minister Ron Dermer.

Our thought bubble: According to U.S. officials, Secretary of State Tony Blinken is expected to travel to Israel on Monday as part of a visit to the Middle East.

  • Blinken will encounter in Israel a whole new political situation than the one he worked with over the last eight months.
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