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Meeting on post-war Gaza ends in fracas as ministers snipe at IDF chief over probe

A meeting of top ministers intended to discuss planning for the administration of Gaza following Israel’s war against Hamas ended in a loud and angry dustup between ministers and military brass according to reports early Friday, as right-wing lawmakers cried foul over plans for the army to probe its own mistakes.

  • The brawl saw right-wing politicians, including some from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, take aim at Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi over both the timing of the inquest and the inclusion of an ex-defense minister.
  • The feud brought to the surface long-simmering tensions between the military and some in the hard-right coalition over Israeli policies vis à vis the Palestinians, exposing cracks in the largely unified front presented by the cabinet since war broke out three months ago. It came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed to the region for highly anticipated talks on plans to wind down fighting and hand over civil control of Gaza.

Reports in Hebrew media outlets, which quoted unnamed participants, said Netanyahu cut off the meeting after three hours with shouting erupting as some ministers came to Halevi’s defense. One minister told the Kan broadcaster that they understood the donnybrook “could be heard outside the room,” another said some defense officials left early, in apparent protest of their treatment.

As the late-night meeting got underway, reports emerged that Halevi was forming a committee of ex-defense officials to probe the army’s failures in the lead-up to Hamas’s October 7 attacks on southern Israel, which caught the military largely unprepared and unable to respond effectively for hours.

  • Some 1,200 people were killed in the onslaught and over 240 were taken hostage, as communities were overrun with ease by thousands of Hamas-led terrorists who invaded from land, air, and sea.

According to the reports, Transportation Minister Miri Regev confronted Halevi during the meeting about the probe, with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem joining in as they demanded to know why the army had decided to launch the probe with fighting ongoing in Gaza.

  • “Why do we need to investigate now,” Amsalem was quoted asking.
  • “So military people are on the defensive instead of busying themselves with winning [the war]?”

Ministers also reportedly expressed anger over the inclusion of former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, due to his involvement in the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. Some on the far-right hope to see the disengagement from the Strip reversed following the war against Hamas, an idea that is widely considered a non-starter.

  • “You appointed Mofaz? Are you crazy,” Regev was quoted saying.

According to the reports, Ben Gvir and Smotrich accused Halevi of sticking to a failed conception regarding Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians exposed by the attacks. The criticism echoed swipes from the revanchist right against “day-after” plans in Gaza that give the Palestinians partial control of affairs in the Strip.

  • The claim prompted war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff and defense minister, to explode, stating, “This is a professional investigation, what does it have to do with the disengagement and conceptions? The chief of staff is fucking probing what happened to serve our battle aims and our ability to plan for a confrontation in the north,” Walla reported.
  • Defense Minister Yoav Gallant defended Halevi’s decision, chiding the ministers for “excoriating him,” setting off fresh bickering over whether the army could order a probe without the politicians’ okay.

Halevi shot back at the ministers that the inquest was operational, not about policy.

  • “This is like me not giving you my schedule for tomorrow. If I need to investigate the operations, I don’t need approval,” he was quoted as saying.

He noted that the probe would help the army avoid the same mistakes as it prepares for possible war against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

Gallant backed up Halevi, telling his colleagues it is “none of your business” if the IDF chief orders a probe. As things grew heated and shouting began, he told Regev, “Miri, I don’t work for you. Let me speak. The chief of staff can do what he wants.”

  • Israel’s political leaders have pointedly refused to look into mistakes that allowed the October 7 assault to occur, promising that they will do so after the war, which was launched with the twin goals of eliminating Hamas and returning the hostages, with some predicting it could take a year or longer of fighting.

Unlike Netanyahu and other politicians, who have refused to accept blame or responsibility for allowing the attack on their watch, defense and intelligence agency heads have been largely forthright in accepting wrongdoing and promising to make changes.

  • During the tussle, ministers aligned against Halevi noted that they had lots of criticism for the army, but had held off on publicly criticizing the military due to the ongoing war. Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, from the National Unity party which joined the coalition as an emergency measure to have a say in the running of the war, asked in retort why there was no criticism for the political leadership as well.

As the bickering continued, Netanyahu declared the meeting over, saying it would be continued another time. There was no government statement on the summit.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, as he closed the meeting Netanyahu told Halevi: “Sometimes, you need to listen to the ministers.”

Ministers speaking to the broadcaster expressed anger at the way Halevi was treated, with one saying that the government needs to rethink whether the security cabinet as currently made up “is fit to make decisions on our defense policies.”

  • “What happened there was a shameful embarrassment,” another minister told the station.
  • “You can criticize the IDF, but they went after the chief of staff relentlessly.”

The meeting came days before Blinken is set to visit Israel to discuss “transitioning to the next phase” of the war, according to the State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, who noted that the talks would likely touch on areas of disagreement.

  • “We don’t expect every conversation on this trip to be easy. There are obviously tough issues facing the region and difficult choices ahead, but the secretary believes it is the responsibility of the United States of America to lead diplomatic efforts to tackle those challenges head-on, and he’s prepared to do that in the days to come,” the State Department spokesman said.

The meeting had initially been scheduled for Tuesday but was delayed after the assassination of Hamas terror chief Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut, which has been widely attributed to Israel.

Netanyahu had originally sought to hold the discussion with the smaller war cabinet that does not include the ministers who spoke out against Halevi, but moved it to the security cabinet after pressure from Smotrich and Ben Gvir, according to reports.

The premier had reportedly tried to avoid any such discussion because it would reveal the expected role that Palestinian Authority officials will have in managing Gaza’s civil affairs after Hamas is defeated.

  • The delay has frustrated the Biden administration, which argues that failure to plan for who will govern Gaza after the war could lead to the Israel Defense Forces being bogged down in the enclave indefinitely.

Source: TOI

Header: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Herzi Halevi, October 23, 2023. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)