Israel’s war cabinet minister Gantz delays statement after hostage rescue

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel’s centrist war cabinet minister Benny Gantz has delayed a statement he was due to give later on Saturday in which he was widely expected to announce his resignation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s emergency government.

Last month, Gantz presented the conservative prime minister with a June 8 deadline to come up with a clear day-after strategy for Gaza, where Israel has been pressing a devastating military offensive against the ruling Palestinian militant group Hamas.

But following news that Israeli forces had rescued four Israeli hostages alive from Gaza, the minister’s spokespeople said his statement would be postponed. They did not give a new time for the address, in which political commentators in leading Israeli newspapers said he was expected to announce his resignation.

The departure of Gantz’s centrist party would not pose an immediate threat to Netanyahu’s governing coalition, which controls 64 of parliament’s 120 seats, but it could have a serious impact nonetheless.

With Gantz gone, Netanyahu would lose the backing of a centrist bloc that has helped broaden support for the government in Israel and abroad, at a time of increasing diplomatic and domestic pressure eight months into the Gaza war.

Netanyahu would have to rely more heavily on the political backing of ultra-nationalist parties, whose leaders angered Washington even before the war and who have since called for a return to a complete Israeli occupation of Gaza.

This would likely increase strains already apparent in relations with the United States and intensify public pressure at home, with the months-long military campaign still not achieving its stated goals – the destruction of Hamas and the return of 120 remaining hostages held in Gaza.

Gantz’s exit might also indicate limited prospects of success in the latest ceasefire efforts, according to political analysts, who say he would have been more likely to stay on if a deal appeared more probable.

Polls have shown Gantz, a former army commander and defence minister, to be the most formidable political rival to Netanyahu, whose image as a security hawk was shattered by the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel.

He joined a unity government soon after Oct. 7, saying he was putting aside political considerations in the national interest.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell Editing by Helen Popper)


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