Israel's War Cabinet is fracturing as pressure mounts to bring hostages home
Ehud Eiran, who was a foreign policy aide to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and is an assistant professor in international relations at Haifa University in Israel, speaks to The World's host, Carolyn Beeler, about the situation.
Protesters shout as as they display pictures showing one of the hostages taken by Hamas militants into the Gaza Strip during the Oct. 7 attack, during a demonstration demanding their release in Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 20, 2024.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu created a War Cabinet to help make executive decisions about the ground offensive in Gaza, and he brought in three people from outside his own political party.
One of them, Gadi Eisenkot, has openly criticized Netanyahu's strategy and neglect of the hostage issue.
Meanwhile, families of the hostages broke into a committee meeting of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on Monday, demanding that all government energy go towards freeing the hostages.
The relatives of the remaining 100 plus hostages have become a powerful pressure group in Israel. They're fearful that the Israeli authorities are not doing enough to bring them home. Last month, Israeli troops accidentally shot and killed three hostages in Gaza.
Since then, officials have signaled a shift in strategy, but it's unclear what that means. Israeli troops continue to push into the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, but the high-ranking officials who make up the country's War Cabinet appear to be more divided than ever.
Ehud Eiran, who was a foreign policy aide to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and is an assistant professor in international relations at Haifa University in Israel, speaks to host Carolyn Beeler about the situation.
Carolyn Beeler: Interrupting a committee meeting in parliament seems quite bold. How much support does this protest movement have in Israel?
Ehud Eiran: I think they have some support. You know, all Israelis, I guess, are sympathetic to the situation but are divided on what needs to be done. People who are closer to the current government or support it prefer to go ahead with the military operation in Gaza, even if it means, in practice, leaving the hostages, you know, in Hamas jails.
So, the people who have been demonstrating for the hostages to come home, how exactly do they want the government or military to make that happen?
They want the government to reach an agreement with Hamas. One problem with that is that it would probably place severe limitations on Israel's ability to operate militarily in Gaza.
So, it's seen as an "either, or": Bring the hostages home or continue the campaign against Hamas.
Yes, it is, in fact, the military pressure that can release the hostages. Most commentators, and definitely the families, feel that it is, indeed, an either, or, situation.
The Israeli government says that it's shifting to a less-intense offensive strategy in Gaza. What does that mean?
It means stopping what is called an Israeli maneuver, moving quickly and trying to capture more territory, holding the positions as they are now, and conducting raids on some targets in southern Gaza. Like the operation that's unfolding in Khan Younis.
I want to I want to ask you now about the War Cabinet that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu created after the Oct. 7 attacks to manage this campaign in Gaza. One of its members, Gadi Eisenkot, has been speaking out about the divisions inside of the War Cabinet. He's a former IDF chief of staff, and his son and his nephew have died in this war. What has he been saying?
So, he somewhat surprised the public in a very candid interview in which he said we should bring the hostages back first. This is coupled with leaks from the cabinet, probably from him, that he's extending the war to a serious political force.
Eisenkot has called for elections, which in Israel's system requires a majority vote in the Knesset to trigger. Is that more likely now than in the past because of this protest movement or these emerging rifts within the War Cabinet?
The war, in general, is a huge political risk from Netanyahu. Israel's government's failure to defend its citizens who respond effectively after the attacks, are all reasons that would lead you to believe that there should be political instability. But Netanyahu still has a very strong, tight coalition. So, this is not the immediate end of the Netanyahu government.
So, you're not anticipating an election being called anytime soon?
Not in the immediate future.
So, if leadership did change during the war, and, for example, Benny Gantz, one of the ministers in the War Cabinet who's also the leader of another party, you think that the war would come to an end?
It's hard to say, but I think the chances will be higher that it will end, or at least will have clearer goals with a clear timeline and an exit strategy. Because Gantz and Eisenkot are much more open to the political process compared to Netanyahu.
How have you been feeling watching those divisions start to emerge?
I generally think it's a positive thing, especially during times of war. Multiplicity of voices and people who challenge the mainstream are important. The government, in my view, did not set realistic war aims and did not include the political process with the Palestinians or a political goal at the end.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and length.
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