Israel forms a wartime unity government, but its scope is unclear

Opposition leader Benny Gantz has joined Netanyahu in a small war Cabinet, adding military experience and maybe a political lifeline

Israeli troops gather outside Gaza
Israeli troops gather outside Gaza
(Image credit: Alexi J. Rosenfeld / Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, a main opposition leader with significant military leadership experience, announced Wednesday night they had joined together to form a wartime Cabinet to manage Israel's fight against Hamas. "Every Hamas member is a dead man," Netanyahu said in a nationally televised speech. "It will be crushed and eliminated."

The emergency "war management Cabinet" also includes Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party. The war Cabinet is set to dissolve as soon as the war is over, per The New York Times.

Ganzt, who leads the center-right National Unity party, proposed a national unity government soon after Hamas militants launched their surprise terrorist incursion from the Gaza Strip on Saturday morning. Netanyahu, who "has come under withering criticism" over the attack, "may have felt he had little choice" but to agree, The Washington Post reported.

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A former defense minister and army chief of staff, Gantz brings to Israel's government a military expertise that was lacking in Netanyahu's far-right coalition. Another former military chief, Gantz ally Gadi Eizenkot, will serve as a nonvoting observer on the war Cabinet, as will Netanyahu ally Ron Dermer. 

"From a public perspective, Netanyahu is now the weaker member of this partnership," Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israeli Democracy Institute, told the Post. "He oversaw the biggest security failure in the country’s history, and Gantz is jumping to help."

Main opposition leader Yair Lapid has an open invitation to join the war Cabinet, Netanyahu and Gallant said, but he has maintained he would only join a Netanyahu government if a pair of its most extremist Cabinet members were booted.

It isn't entirely clear what will happen with the Israeli government's non-military actions. The war Cabinet will give "Gantz power akin to that of another prime minister," and "all other political initiatives, with the exception of vital economic measures, will be put on hold without the approval of both Netanyahu and Gantz," the Post reported. That includes a polarizing overhaul of the judiciary. According to The Associated Press, however, "the rest of Netanyahu's existing government partners" will apparently "remain in place to handle non-war issues."

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