Israeli PM Netanyahu disbands inner war cabinet after Gantz resignation as war in Gaza continues

Tensions with Iran-backed Hizbullah militia in Lebanon bringing region close to wider conflict, Israel says

An Israeli soldier and a man check a crater on the ground at a house that was hit by a Hizbullah rocket in northern Israel near the Lebanon border, on June 16th. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has dissolved his six-member war cabinet in a widely expected move following the departure from government of centrist former general Benny Gantz.

Mr Netanyahu is now expected to hold consultations about the Gaza war with a small group of ministers, including defence minister Yoav Gallant and strategic affairs minister Ron Dermer, who had been in the war cabinet.

The move was announced as US special envoy Amos Hochstein visited Jerusalem, seeking to calm the situation on the disputed border with Lebanon, where Israel said tensions with the Iran-backed Hizbullah militia were bringing the region close to a wider conflict.

The Israeli military said on Monday it had killed a senior operative in one of Hizbullah’s rocket and missile sections in the area of Selaa in southern Lebanon.


The military also said its operations were continuing in the southern parts of the Gaza Strip, where its forces have been battling Hamas fighters in the Tel Sultan area of western Rafah, as well as in central areas of the enclave.

An Israeli army vehicle moves in the Gaza Strip on Monday. Photograph: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Mr Netanyahu had faced demands from the nationalist-religious partners in his coalition, finance minister Bezalel Smotrich and national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, to be included in the war cabinet. Such a move would have intensified strains with international partners including the United States.

The forum was formed after Mr Gantz joined Mr Netanyahu in a national unity government at the start of the Gaza war in October. It also included Mr Gantz’s political partner Gadi Eisenkot and Aryeh Deri, head of the religious party Shas, as observers.

Mr Gantz and Mr Eisenkot both left the government last week, over what they said was the prime minister’s failure to form a strategy for the Gaza war.

An agreement to halt the fighting in Gaza still appears distant, more than eight months since the October 7th attack on Israel led by Hamas fighters that triggered Israel’s military offensive in the Palestinian enclave.

The October 7th attack killed some 1,200 people and about 250 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s offensive has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health ministry figures, and destroyed much of Gaza.

People search for survivors in the rubble of a building following Israeli bombardment at al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on June 15th. Photograph: Eyad Baba/AFP via Getty

Although opinion polls suggest most Israelis support the government’s aim of destroying Hamas, there have been widespread protests attacking the government for not doing more to bring home around 120 hostages still being held in Gaza.

Meanwhile, anti-government protesters converged on Jerusalem on Monday, calling for new elections in an effort to replace Mr Netanyahu.

By sundown, a crowd of thousands had gathered outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and planned to march to Mr Netanyahu’s private home in the city.

Many waved Israeli flags. Others carried signs criticising Mr Netanyahu’s handling of pivotal issues, including promoting a divisive military draft bill that exempts ultra-Orthodox Jews from otherwise mandatory service, as well as his handling of the war with Hamas in Gaza.

Mr Hochstein’s visit follows weeks of increasing exchanges of fire across the line between Israel and Lebanon, where Israeli forces have for months been engaged in a simmering conflict with Hizbullah that has continued alongside the war in Gaza.

Tens of thousands of people have fled from their homes on both sides of the so-called Blue Line that divides the two countries, leaving deserted areas of abandoned villages and farms hit by near-daily bombardment.

“The current state of affairs is not a sustainable reality,” government spokesman David Mencer said.

A survey for the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank, found 36 per cent of respondents favouring an immediate strike against Hizbullah, up from 26 per cent a month earlier.

Israeli aircraft and artillery have pounded southern Lebanon and last week killed a senior Hizbullah commander in a strike against a command and control centre that drew a further intensification of attacks.

In addition to attacks by missiles and anti-tank rockets, there has been a marked increase in drone attacks that have underlined the strength of the arsenal Hizbullah has built up since the last major conflict between the two sides in 2006. – Reuters