In reaction to the horrific Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and the overwhelming national recognition of the need for a carefully orchestrated war effort to eliminate Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed last week to form a national unity government that includes members of the opposition and former military leaders.
The move was widely welcomed for its recognition that the war effort needs the unified support of the Israeli people and government leaders – one that rises above the polarization that has overtaken political and social life in the country.
The unity plan was approved by Israel’s Knesset on Oct. 12. In announcing the “war cabinet,” Netanyahu promised to “crush and eliminate” Hamas. The war effort will be directed by the war cabinet, which is intended to stay in place until Operation Swords of Iron is concluded.
The structure of the war cabinet is simple. For now, it will be comprised of three people – Netanyahu, his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, and former military chief of staff and head of the National Unity Party, Benny Gantz. A fourth seat was reportedly reserved for Israel’s opposition leader, Yair Lapid, but only if he joins the unity government. Thus far, Lapid has rejected a deal with Netanyahu over the continued presence of two far-right ministers in his coalition, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Rounding out participants in the war cabinet will be two observers: Gadi Eisenkot, a former army chief of staff who was a member of the National Unity Party, and Ron Dermer, a close Netanyahu ally who is Israel’s strategic affairs minister and a former Israeli ambassador to the United States.
The role and reach of the war cabinet is limited. Netanyahu and Gantz have agreed that the cabinet will only deal with legislation and government decisions related to the conflict with Hamas and will continue doing so for as long as that conflict continues. None of the controversial proposals that have divided Israel will be addressed. The arrangement leaves room for agreement to extend the range of issues to be considered if that becomes necessary, but the terms and methodology for the pursuit of any such activity have not been made public.
We commend Gantz on his decision to join the unity government and to bring his centrist party into the governing coalition. We recognize that Gantz’s past dealings with Netanyahu did not end well and that Gantz has good reason to be wary of Netanyahu’s promises. And yet, with his country at risk during an extraordinarily challenging time, Gantz chose to put his ego aside and join the war effort.
In doing so, Gantz has clearly favored country over politics. And he has shown by example the importance of every Israeli doing what is needed to help ensure the safety and security of Israel and its citizenry. In Gantz’s words: “Our standing here, shoulder to shoulder, is a clear message to our enemies, and more importantly, a message to all citizens of Israel – we are all together, we are all mobilizing.”
Benny Gantz is an Israeli patriot. He is also an exemplary leader.