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War on Gaza: Israeli cabinet meeting on soldiers’ conduct ends abruptly after row

Lawmakers pressed for a probe over Israeli soldiers’ conduct and mistakes leading up to the 7 October Hamas attack, breaking out into a row
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Israeli Ministry of Defence, in Tel Aviv, 24 December 2023 (Reuters)

An Israeli diplomatic-security cabinet meeting which took place on Thursday evening came to an abrupt end when a row broke out, according to Israeli media.

The cabinet meeting was held to discuss the future of the Gaza Strip after Israel’s war on the besieged enclave ends.

However, lawmakers clashed with the chief of staff and the defence establishment over an investigation into the mistakes and conduct of Israeli soldiers around the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel. 

Lawmakers said that the probe, which was set to look into failure to prepare for the attack, was promised to start immediately after the war on Gaza ended. 

Reports in Israeli media stated that the meeting lasted for three and a half hours, before “exploding”.

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Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and Transport Minister Miri Regev were among those involved in the intense discussions.

Regev said the decision over the probe had been made without lawmakers’ knowledge, arguing that the army should be fully focused on combat at the moment.

Row over Gaza future

The discussion on what should happen following the war on Gaza has revealed deep ideological divides within the coalition, with Ben Gvir and Smotrich reiterating their belief in the meeting that Palestinians in Gaza should be permanently displaced and replaced with Israeli settlers. 

'...not all criticism is blasphemy, we are the ministers and this is our job'

- Itamar Ben Gvir, Israeli national security minister

Another point of contention during the meeting was the announcement that the investigation is set to include former defence minister, Shaul Mofaz. The decision stirred discontent with far-right politicians, due to his involvement in Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and being a key figure in security coordination with the Palestinian Authority. 

A minister told Hebrew outlet Kan News that the discussions were “despicable” and that the army was attacked, causing “some senior members of the defence establishment to leave in the middle”.

There was also conflict over whether a full team had been appointed to carry the investigation out, to which there was no clear answer given.

Ben Gvir reportedly defended his right to question the chief of staff, saying “not all criticism is blasphemy, we are the ministers and this is our job.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eventually cut off all discussion, ending the meeting and saying that it would continue another time.

'Stormy discussions'

On Friday, Smotrich responded to the Israeli media reports of the meeting, saying that the meeting did not “explode” and instead the meeting was set to end at midnight.

“Indeed, in the last five minutes there was a stormy discussion on the issue of the investigative team, but the loud voices were between the ministers and not in front of the chief of staff,” he posted on X. 

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He added that the discussions were based around three main topics: the right to engage in investigation while the war is ongoing; if investigations should be dealt with internally with the military, or if there should be involvement from a political level; and the involvement of Mofaz.

“My position is that operative investigations designed to draw lessons relevant to the continuation of the war must be done during the war, all the rest after the war. As far as I understand, this is also the position of the chief of staff,” he added, saying that his belief is that it is a matter for the army.

Israeli politician Yair Lapid also took to X to decry the leaks from the meeting as a “disgrace and further proof that this cabinet is dangerous.”

“The State of Israel must replace the government and its leader. These people are not worthy of the sacrifice and heroism of IDF men and women, and will not be able to lead a strategic decision. They have to go now,” he added.

War broke out in Israel and Gaza on 7 October, when Hamas and armed Palestinian groups launched an attack on Israel that killed around 1,140 people, according to the government death toll.

Meanwhile, Israel has killed more than 22,000 Palestinians in its aerial bombing campaign and ground assault, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

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