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Middle East

Netanyahu tightens grip on power by disbanding Israel's war cabinet

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  • Netanyahu dissolved Israel's war cabinet overseeing conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah, consolidating decision-making power in his hands after the resignation of Benny Gantz from the emergency coalition government.
  • This move sidelines far-right allies like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who were vying for influence in the war cabinet, and reflects disagreements between Netanyahu and the military hierarchy over the conduct of the war.
  • Netanyahu plans to make crucial decisions in private consultations with a select group of advisers before presenting them to the security cabinet, further centralizing authority and potentially marginalizing dissenting voices.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a bold move to consolidate his decision-making power by dissolving the war cabinet that was overseeing the ongoing conflicts with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This decision comes in the wake of the resignation of Benny Gantz, a moderate politician and former military chief, from the emergency coalition government last week.

The War Cabinet's Formation and Role

The war cabinet, a smaller forum within the larger security cabinet, was formed in October 2022 after Israel declared war on Gaza in response to a Hamas-led attack. Its primary purpose was to make swift decisions regarding the conduct of the war, which would then be sent for approval to the wider cabinet.

The six-member war cabinet comprised Netanyahu, Gantz, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three observers: government ministers Aryeh Deri and Gadi Eisenkot, and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer. It was intended to streamline the decision-making process during the ongoing conflict.

Disagreements and Tensions Within the War Cabinet

However, the war cabinet was not without its share of internal disagreements and tensions. Reports emerged of feuds and clashes between members, with Gallant and Netanyahu allegedly not speaking to each other at one point. Yair Lapid, the opposition leader, described the war cabinet meetings as "a shameful arena for settling scores, fighting, and discussions that lead nowhere."

Gantz's Resignation and the Dissolution

On June 9, Gantz and observer Eisenkot resigned from the war cabinet, citing a lack of a clear plan for Gaza beyond the current assault. This departure paved the way for Netanyahu to dissolve the war cabinet, as he announced to the security cabinet on Sunday, stating, "There is no more war cabinet. It was part of the coalition agreement with Gantz, at his demand. The moment Gantz left, there is no such forum anymore."

Consolidating Power and Sidelining Far-Right Allies

Netanyahu's decision to dissolve the war cabinet appears to be a calculated move to consolidate his power and sideline his far-right allies within the coalition, such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. These ministers had been vying for a seat in the war cabinet since Gantz's exit, which could have further strained Israel's ties with the United States and other international allies.

Reports suggest that Netanyahu plans to make crucial decisions in private consultations with a select group of advisers, excluding Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, before presenting them to the security cabinet. This move is seen as a slight to the far-right ministers, who represent an ultra-Orthodox, hard-right constituency within Israel's increasingly rightward-tilting politics.

Disagreements with Military Hierarchy

The dissolution of the war cabinet also transpired amidst disagreements between Netanyahu and senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commanders. According to Israeli media reports, Netanyahu informed the regular Sunday cabinet meeting that "to achieve the objective of dismantling Hamas' capabilities, [he had] made choices that were not always in line with the military hierarchy's preferences." However, he emphasized, "We have a nation with an army and not an army with a nation."

Political Implications and Future Decisions

While the disbanding of the war cabinet is unlikely to significantly alter the course of the conflict, as decision-making will revert to the security cabinet, the political implications could be substantial. Netanyahu's growing self-assurance, reflected in his improved poll numbers since Gantz's departure, suggests that he may continue to consolidate power and make decisions in a more centralized manner.

The formation of a "kitchen cabinet," as reported by Al Jazeera, where Netanyahu will consult a reduced group of advisers for sensitive discussions and consultations, could further marginalize dissenting voices and concentrate decision-making authority in the hands of the prime minister.

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