update deskIsrael at War

Ben-Gvir, Smotrich lash out over Gaza military withdrawal

“If the prime minister decides to end the war without a large-scale offensive in Rafah to defeat Hamas, he will not have a mandate to continue serving,” said Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Israeli government at the Knesset, on Dec. 29, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Israeli government at the Knesset, on Dec. 29, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Right-wing ministers lashed out on Monday over the Israel Defense Forces’ withdrawal the previous day from southern Gaza, saying the move harms the war effort and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu risks losing his mandate should the military fail to fully eliminate Hamas.

“If the prime minister decides to end the war without a large-scale offensive in Rafah to defeat Hamas, he will not have a mandate to continue serving,” tweeted National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called on Netanyahu to immediately convene the Security Cabinet, which he argued had been sidelined.

“The only forum authorized to make significant decisions is the full [Security] Cabinet, but unfortunately this is not how things are happening, and we are seeing decisions being made in the smaller [War] Cabinet without approval…[and] under international pressure that is harming the war’s momentum and our interests,” said Smotrich.

The Israel Defense Forces announced on Sunday it had withdrawn almost all ground forces from southern Gaza, with only one brigade left in the northern and central Strip. The news came after months of fighting in the former Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis.

“Citizens of Israel, there is no war more just than this one, and we are determined to achieve total victory,” said Netanyahu just hours after the pullout.

“I have made it clear to the international community: There will be no ceasefire without the return of the hostages. It simply will not happen,” he added.

Netanyahu has repeatedly emphasized that telling Israel to refrain from operating in Rafah is equivalent to demanding that it lose the war. Many of the 133 hostages still in the hands of Hamas are believed to be in Gaza’s southernmost city. Two captives were rescued from Rafah by special forces in a daring military operation last month.

While Israel is planning a large-scale invasion of Rafah to destroy the last Hamas battalions there, the Biden administration favors a limited operation aimed at high-value targets and securing the Gaza-Egypt border.

In a phone call on Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden demanded that Netanyahu improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, stressing that “an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilize and improve the humanitarian situation and protect innocent civilians.”

Biden also urged Netanyahu “to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home,” the White House said.

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