Netanyahu dissolves Israel's war Cabinet after key member resigns — what it means and what happens now

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz
From left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz at a news conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that he had disbanded his war Cabinet managing the armed conflict in Gaza and has no plans to replace the coalition.

The move comes days after war cabinet minister Benny Gantz quit in protest of Netanyahu’s handling of the war in Gaza and as international pressure has grown for a ceasefire agreement. In recent weeks, the Palestinian death toll has continued to rise and the humanitarian crisis has grown even more dire in the enclave.

The Israeli war Cabinet was set up days after the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7. It consisted of a team of political rivals and was meant to demonstrate government unity in the wake of the horrific attack. The Cabinet consisted of Netanyahu, his main political rival and former general Gantz, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three observers, government ministers Aryeh Deri and Gadi Eisenkot, and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer.

However, the political coalition unraveled last week when Gantz and Eisenkot — both of whom are of the National Unity Party — resigned, citing differences regarding the direction of the war in Gaza. Gantz announced his “complex and painful” decision in a televised speech on June 9, citing his reasons that a postwar plan for the enclave never materialized. He also said that Netanyahu has not prioritized recovering the remaining Hamas-held hostages.

Gantz’s presence in the war Cabinet gave it more credibility with international leaders, including U.S. officials, with whom he has good working relations.

One possibility is that without Gantz and Eisenkot in the war Cabinet, there was no point in keeping an even smaller coalition, CNN reported.

News of Gantz’s resignation had prompted far-right members in Netanyahu’s government, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, to demand that they join the war Cabinet. But one of the reasons the smaller war Cabinet was created was to bypass Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, according to CBS News.

Hardliners such as Smotrich and Ben-Gvir have urged Israel to maintain its assault on Gaza until Hamas is completely defeated, and they have also threatened to resign if Netanyahu accepts the ceasefire proposal introduced by President Biden last month. That includes the release of more than 70 hostages still believed to be held alive in Gaza, along with the return of the remains of about 30 others. Those resignations could result in the collapse of Israel’s governing coalition, meaning Netanyahu’s term in office would end.

Netanyahu may have also dissolved the war Cabinet to avoid heeding calls from Ben-Gvir and Smotrich to allow them to join the war Cabinet to avoid further straining Israel’s relationship with the U.S., CNN reports.

Going forward, Netanyahu will hold smaller meetings with some of his government members on key war decisions, according to the Associated Press. It’s unclear whether the smaller group would include Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.

Major policy decisions regarding the Israel-Hamas war will still be taken up by the wider security Cabinet, which includes the far-right politicians.

On Sunday the Israeli military announced a daily “tactical pause” in fighting along a 7.4-mile stretch of road in the Rafah area to allow a backlog of desperately needed humanitarian aid to get in through a main aid entry point at Kerem Shalom Crossing in southern Gaza, which is controlled by the Israeli military.

The military, which made the announcement apart from the government, said the daily pause in fighting will occur every day until further notice during daylight hours, but it is not considered a ceasefire. Their actions prompted criticism from Netanyahu, as reported by Israeli TV stations, who said, “We have a country with an army, not an army with a country.”

Netanyahu also said the Israeli military's plan was unacceptable to him, according to an official who spoke with NBC News.