Published: 14:21, June 21, 2024
Internal rifts add pressure on Netanyahu
By Jan Yumul in Hong Kong

Dissolution of war cabinet seen as a tactical maneuver by embattled PM

Israeli police officers restrain protesters during an anti-government rally in Jerusalem on June 17, 2024. Protesters called for early elections amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza. (PHOTO / AFP)

Internal divisions within the Israeli government and the dissolution of its war cabinet have cast doubts on Tel Aviv’s objectives in Gaza, amid delays in agreeing on a cease-fire deal and the distribution of aid.

The war cabinet was dissolved as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced a “local, tactical pause of military activity for humanitarian purposes” between 8 am and 7 pm daily from June 16.

The IDF said this was to increase the volume of humanitarian aid entering Gaza following discussions with the United Nations and international aid organizations.

Analysts said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest move and its timing were meant to deflect international criticisms and alleviate his domestic woes, which are further delegitimizing his embattled government.

On June 17, The Times of Israel and other media reported that Netanyahu had disbanded his six-member war cabinet. He formed the emergency government on Oct 11 to manage the country’s response to Palestine’s Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah’s actions following Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on Oct 7.

The dissolution was announced amid pressure from his far-right coalition partners to form a new “war cabinet” and threats of expanding the Gaza conflict to Lebanon. It also came soon after the June 9 resignation of Benny Gantz, a retired general and member of Israel’s Knesset.

Gantz quit after failing to get a postwar plan for Gaza approved by Netanyahu.

Nagapushpa Devendra, a West Asia analyst and research scholar at the University of Erfurt in Germany, said dissolving the war cabinet “reflects a shift in Israel’s security priorities”, with Netanyahu possibly reevaluating the approach to dealing with Hamas and Hezbollah.

She said this may be seen as a tactical maneuver by Netanyahu, aimed at further consolidating power within the prime minister’s office and centralizing the decision-making processes, especially now that his political rival Gantz is no longer around.

“Netanyahu’s decision to disband the war cabinet may be a strategic ploy to deflect criticism from the international community and the Israeli public,” Devendra told China Daily. She noted that Netanyahu may be seeking to enhance his political standing and bolster his reputation on the global stage.

His latest moves could also serve to placate domestic critics who had raised concerns about his government’s handling of security issues, she added.

The timing is also “evidence of a calculated political maneuver” with Israel facing mounting pressure from the international community, the West, regional leaders, as well as the Jewish community, Devendra said.

Meanwhile, amid the growing discontent in Israel over Netanyahu’s handling of the bombardment in Gaza, anti-government protesters took to the streets of Jerusalem on June 17, demanding the freeing of hostages still being held by Hamas and even calling for elections.

By sundown, a crowd of thousands had gathered outside the Knesset before marching to Netanyahu’s private home in the city.

Separately, the IDF’s announcement of a pause in fighting had been called into question, with Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, saying that it had not happened.

He said hostilities were ongoing in Rafah and in the south of Gaza and that “operationally, nothing has changed yet”, Al Jazeera reported.

In the south, Israeli airstrikes on June 18 killed at least 17 Palestinians in two of Gaza’s historic refugee camps and Israeli tanks pushed deeper into the enclave’s southern city of Rafah, residents and medics said.

In central Gaza, witnesses reported gunfire and artillery shelling near Nuseirat refugee camp, where the civil defense agency said at least 13 people died in two separate strikes on a family home and a commercial building.

Witnesses and the Hamas government media office said there were some air strikes and fighting elsewhere in northern and central Gaza.

“The current situation reflects Israel’s strategic delaying tactics amid internal turmoil. It is no secret that Israel has long been engulfed in internal conflicts, and now lacks both international and domestic legitimacy,” Arhama Siddiqa, a Middle East analyst at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad in Pakistan, told China Daily.

She said the 11-hour pause in hostilities offered little reprieve, with Israeli atrocities reaching new levels daily and children dying every hour, illustrating the “dire choices between death by bullet or starvation”.

Agencies contributed to this story.