Divisions deepen in Israeli government as Cabinet minister says victory

Divisions deepen in Israeli government as Cabinet minister says victory over Hamas is unrealistic – CNN


Divisions within the Israeli government are deepening after War Cabinet Minister Gadi Eisenkot declared the war's central goal of defeating Hamas unrealistic and called for new elections within months.

“Those who say that there has been a severe blow and destruction of capacity in the north of the strip are telling the truth,” Eisenkot told Israel's Channel 12 News on Thursday evening. “Anyone who speaks of absolute defeat and a lack of will and ability is not telling the truth. Therefore there is no reason to tell tall tales.”

Eisenkot spoke shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again said Israel's military campaign would continue until it achieved a “complete victory” over Hamas. His comments also came after Israel withdrew some troops from the northern Gaza Strip, signaling a new phase of the conflict would soon begin.

But Eisenkot said: “A strategic achievement has not been achieved… We have not destroyed the Hamas organization.”

The comments are the latest symptom of divisions within Israel's coalition government and growing dissatisfaction with Netanyahu's war plans. Israel's war cabinet was formed shortly after Hamas's brutal attack on October 7 and consists of some ministers who are already at odds with each other.

Oren Ziv/AFP/Getty Images

Gadi Eisenkot attends the funeral of his son Gal Eisenkot, who was killed while serving in the Israeli military in Gaza, on December 8, 2023.

In his interview, Eisenkot said Israel needed new elections because the public no longer had confidence in Netanyahu's leadership.

He also dismissed concerns about the country's holding of elections during the war. “The public’s lack of trust in government is no less serious than the lack of unity during a war,” he said.

“We need to go to the polls and hold elections in the next few months to renew confidence because there is no confidence at the moment,” he said. “The State of Israel is a democracy and, after such a serious event, must ask itself: How can we move forward with a leadership that is responsible for such an absolute failure?”

Although the cabinet was created to show unity, “it does not hide the fact that there are already major differences in policies and approaches,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in Jerusalem, adding that These divisions now exist surfacing.

Reuven Hazan, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said if the war exceeds the 100-day mark, divisions will inevitably arise. “And they have,” Hazan told CNN, adding that “the borders between the two camps are getting worse every day.”

Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

An Israeli tank surveys the war-torn Gaza Strip from a position in southern Israel, January 19, 2024.

More than three months after Netanyahu's war on Gaza, there is no end to the conflict in sight. Israel began its campaign after Hamas launched surprise cross-border attacks that killed 1,200 people and took more than 240 hostage. The Israeli authorities believe there are more than 100 left lively in captivity after 105 were released in December during a temporary ceasefire. Dozens of hostages were killed and their bodies remain in Gaza.

More than 24,000 people have now been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the enclave Parts of the territory were razed to the ground.

Hazan says the Israeli government has decided to pursue two goals in this war, both of which may not be achievable. “One is the destruction of Hamas and the other is the return of the hostages home,” he said. “And as we’ve seen, after over a hundred days, you can’t do both.”

Eisenkot said the government had failed to achieve what he said should be its top priority: securing the release of the hostages.

“There is no question in my mind which task is the highest priority,” he said. “There is no dilemma: for me, the mission is to rescue civilians (hostages) before eliminating the enemy,” Eisenkot said, adding that there would be time to eliminate Hamas later.

A November poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that while Israelis overwhelmingly support both defeating Hamas and repatriating the hostages, they believe the return of the hostages is more important.

Alexandre Meneghini/Portal

Families of hostages and their supporters block a street as they demand the release of hostages held by Hamas in Tel Aviv, Israel, on January 18, 2024.

Israel's relations with its strongest ally, the United States, were also in a downward spiral. On Thursday, Israel's prime minister voiced a strong rejection of a post-war scenario that involves the creation of a Palestinian state as demanded by the United States and other countries.

The idea of ​​establishing a Palestinian state would clash with Israel's security, Netanyahu said. Before his comments on Thursday, Netanyahu made his rejection of a Palestinian state clear several times.

“In any agreement in the foreseeable future, with or without an agreement, the State of Israel must control the security of the entire land west of the Jordan,” he said at a news conference in Tel Aviv when asked about reports that he told U.S. officials , said he was against the idea of ​​Palestinian sovereignty that would include both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu added that Israeli politicians calling for his resignation are essentially calling for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Hazan sees relations between Israel and the US deteriorating primarily because Netanyahu wants to cling to power.

Current and former Israeli politicians have called on Netanyahu to resign.

Asked whether he believed Netanyahu had prolonged the conflict to ensure his own political survival, Eisenkot said he did not believe that was the case.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has also called for new elections. In an editorial published in Haaretz on Thursday, he warned that Netanyahu's current strategy risks alienating the US and leaving Israel “stuck in the swamp of Gaza.”

Once the war ends, the Israeli public's focus may shift to Netanyahu's prewar shortcomings, some analysts say. According to Plesner, more attention could be focused on responsibility for the October 7 attack and on a new leadership mandate.

“Given Netanyahu’s situation in public opinion, I’m not sure he’s very interested in experiencing this phase,” he added.

The prime minister, who faced mass protests before the war against his plans for judicial reform, has so far refused to take responsibility for the events of October 7th. He also reportedly refused to hold high-level discussions about plans for his office. Israeli media reported that the Gaza war left behind a handful of far-right members of the ruling coalition to fill the void with ideas viewed by many as extremist.

“(Netanyahu) understands that for him to remain in power, the war must continue,” said Hebrew University’s Hazan, “because the day the war ends, the people of Israel will turn against him.”

Amir Levy/Getty Images

On January 6, 2024, Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest against Netanyahu and his government.

An opinion poll released earlier this month by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) found that only 15% of Israelis want Netanyahu to remain prime minister after the war. 23 percent said they wanted former defense minister Benny Gantz as prime minister after the war.

Gantz is widely seen as Netanyahu's likely successor if a new election is held.

“As terrible as this may sound, it is in Netanyahu’s political and survival interests to continue the war, and that will bring him into conflict with the Biden administration,” Hazan said.

Even if elections are held in Israel, Netanyahu is likely to campaign against the prospect of a Palestinian state, telling those who support him that “only he can say no to the United States and to a Palestinian state,” Hazan said. He added that the prime minister probably believes this would turn public sentiment in his favor.

However, Plesner does not believe that Netanyahu is trying to expand the war to stay in power. War decisions do not come from Netanyahu alone, he said, pointing out that while the Israelis see the hostages returning home, there is no significant support for a permanent ceasefire This could further strengthen Hamas.