Gallant caught in limbo as Netanyahu delays formal dismissal


Five days ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to fire his defense minister sparked mass spontaneous protests and a general strike that threatened to paralyze the country, forcing the leader to suspend his partition plan. to reform the judicial system.

But Netanyahu did not send a formal letter of termination to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a spokesman for Netanyahu said. As of Friday, Gallant – whose criticism of Netanyahu’s planned judicial changes led to his dismissal – was still at work. Gallant’s aides said it was business as usual at the Defense Ministry.

As the local media was abuzz this week with reports that Netanyahu was considering whether to replace Gallant with the elites of his right-wing Likud party, Gallant remained in limbo — and yet , the public face of his ministry.

He greeted Azerbaijan’s foreign minister, toured two military bases and attended a security cabinet meeting on Tuesday this week. On Thursday, Gallant attended a celebration before the Passover holiday with the director of the Shin Bet security service, his office said, releasing a photo of him smiling next to Director Ronen Bar.

“It is our duty to calm the spirits in Israeli society and maintain an inclusive and unifying discourse,” Gallant said at the holiday toast.

The questions surrounding the fate of Israel’s vital Defense Ministry — which maintains Israel’s 55-year-old military rule in the West Bank and faces threats from Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist group, and the Gaza Strip’s terrorist Hamas rulers — show the tensions rife. . by Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition after one of Israel’s most dramatic weeks in decades. It is also a leadership test for Israel’s longest-serving prime minister as he rules a deeply polarized country and faces accusations of corruption.

Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform plan set bonfires and blocked a highway during a protest after the firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023. ( Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s decision to halt plans to weaken the Supreme Court in the face of the country’s largest protest movement underscores the complex juggling act the prime minister will have to perform to assemble his ruling coalition, experts say.

On the one hand, Netanyahu needs to please his far-right and religiously conservative coalition partners—supporters of judicial reform—whom he swept into power even on trial.

But he must also consider serious concerns about the plan from Israel’s closest ally, the United States, as well as anger from more moderate politicians and, significantly, dissension within the military over fears that the national crisis could threaten do the security of the country. A growing number of military reservists have refused to report for duty in protest against the measures, raising concerns that the crisis could damage Israel’s military capabilities.

Netanyahu’s office declined to comment further on Gallant’s pending case. But the conflicting pressures have hampered the future of Gallant and the defense minister.

“Netanyahu has extremists surrounding him and they want to see blood, they want to remove Gallant,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Among those politicians are far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who gained enormous power in coalition deals that convinced them to join the government.

But as the first senior Likud official to defy judicial reform, Gallant has proven to be “someone who is more concerned about the national interest than Netanyahu’s personal interest,” Talshir added.

His firing and replacement could lead to official prompting, not only from the thousands of Israeli protesters who take to the streets weekly and already frustrated Israeli military officials, but also from the Biden administration , she said.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin give a statement to the press at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) headquarters near Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP )

The United States, which gives Israel an annual aid package of more than $3 billion and diplomatic support in international forums, has expressed doubts about Netanyahu’s efforts to change Israel’s judicial system. US President Joe Biden’s blunt criticism of the overhaul this week led to a rare open dispute between the allies – even after Netanyahu decided to stop it.

“The Biden administration saw Gallant as someone trustworthy, someone they can work with,” said Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The judicial plan would give Netanyahu and his allies the final say in appointing the nation’s judges. It would also give the parliament, which is controlled by her allies, the authority to overturn Supreme Court decisions and limit the court’s ability to review laws. Critics say that the plan would irreparably weaken Israel’s system of checks and balances and lead the country towards autocracy.

As Netanyahu met this week with possible alternatives to Gallant, such as Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Israeli media reported there were a flurry of proposals to let Gallant stay on – including a public apology give, or remain as defense minister but resign from parliament. and forfeit his ability to vote against the overhaul.

But on Friday it appeared that Gallant and Netanyahu had not yet come to an agreement.

“At the bottom of this is the realization by (Netanyahu) and most of the Likud that the firing of Gallant was a huge mistake,” Yaari said. “Netanyahu wants to stay above water, but he can’t really swim.”

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