Israeli officials say Netanyahu has dissolved the War Cabinet after key partner bolted government

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dissolved the influential War Cabinet that has overseen the fighting in Gaza, Israeli officials said Monday, a move that comes days after a key member of the body bolted from the government over frustration with the Israeli leader’s handling of the war.

The move was widely expected following the departure earlier this month of Benny Gantz, a centrist former military chief. Gantz’s absence from the government increases Netanyahu’s dependence on his ultra-nationalist allies, who oppose a cease-fire. That could pose an additional challenge to the already fragile negotiations to end the eight-month war in Gaza.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the change with the media, said Netanyahu would hold smaller forums for sensitive war issues, including with his Security Cabinet, which includes far-right governing partners who oppose cease-fire deals and have voiced support for reoccupying Gaza.

The War Cabinet was formed in the early days of the war, when Gantz, then an opposition party leader and Netanyahu rival, joined the coalition in a show of unity following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel. He demanded that a small decision-making body steer the war, in a bid to sideline far-right members of Netanyahu’s government. It was made up of three members — Gantz, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The move to scrap the War Cabinet comes as Israel faces more pivotal decisions.

Israel and Hamas are weighing the latest proposal for a cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages taken by Hamas during its attack. Israeli troops are still bogged down in the Gaza Strip, fighting in the southern city of Rafah and against pockets of Hamas resurgence elsewhere. And violence continues unabated between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group — with a Biden administration envoy in the region in a bid to avert a wider war on a second front.

Netanyahu has played a balancing act throughout the war, weighing pressure from Israel’s top ally, the U.S., and growing global opposition to the fighting, as well as from his government partners, chief among them Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Both have threatened to topple the government should Israel move ahead on a cease-fire deal. The latest proposal is part of the Biden administration’s most concentrated push to help wind down the war. For now, progress on a deal appears to be stalled.

Critics say Netanyahu’s wartime decision-making has been influenced by the ultra-nationalists in his government and by his desire to remain in power. Netanyahu denies the accusations and says he has the country’s best interests in mind.

Gantz’s departure, while not posing a direct threat to Netanyahu’s rule, rocked Israeli politics at a sensitive time. The popular former military chief was seen as a statesman who boosted Israel’s credibility with its international partners at a time when Israel finds itself at its most isolated. Gantz is now an opposition party leader in parliament.

Netanyahu’s government is Israel’s most religious and nationalist ever. In Israel’s fractious parliamentary system, Netanyahu relies on a group of small parties to help keep his government afloat. Without the support of Gantz’s party, Netanyahu is expected to be more beholden to far-right allies.

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