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Israeli leader at odds with military over war against Hamas

Israeli leader at odds with military over war against Hamas

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A senior Israeli military official described the idea of destroying Hamas as “throwing sand in the eyes of the public” as Israel’s leaders feuded over issues ranging from the war in Gaza to the appointment of rabbis.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Hamas would remain in power in Gaza, unless Israel — which has so far failed to agree on a postwar plan for the coastal enclave — came up with an alternative.

“To say we are going to make Hamas disappear — it’s simply throwing sand in the eyes of the public,” the chief spokesman of Israel’s military said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 13 on Wednesday night. “Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people. Whoever thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong.”

Hagari’s comments drew a rebuke from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who issued a statement saying the security cabinet had “defined the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities as one of the goals of the war”.

“The Israeli militaryy, of course, is committed to this,” the statement added.

In response, the military said Hagari had been talking about “the elimination of Hamas as an idea and ideology”, and that any other interpretation was “taking the quote out of context”.

The spat comes amid increasingly public tensions in Israel’s leadership over the course of the war in Gazawhere Israel is far from achieving its objectives of destroying Hamas and freeing the roughly 120 hostages still held by the militant group.

People search through rubble after overnight Israeli strikes in al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip © Bashar Taleb/AFP via Getty Images

On Sunday, Netanyahu lashed out at the army after it announced a limited pause in operations near a crossing into Gaza that was intended to help aid distribution in the shattered enclave, where aid groups have warned that famine is imminent.

Meanwhile, in recent days, Netanyahu’s son Yair has made a number of posts on social media attacking military leaders.

On Tuesday, he shared a video in which a journalist accused Herzi Halevi, the head of the military, of wanting Hamas to remain in power in Gaza — which the Israel Defense Forces dismissed as a “baseless lie”. A day later he posted a tweet asking where Tomer Bar, the head of Israel’s air force, had been “and what was he doing” during the armed group’s October 7 attack on Israel.

The tensions over Israel’s military strategy have been accompanied by feuding within Netanyahu’s rightwing coalition, with members bickering publicly on Wednesday after a bill on rabbinical appointments was pulled ahead of a vote owing to a lack of support.

That decision prompted fury among Netanyahu’s ultraorthodox coalition partners, with some issuing veiled threats to leave the government. It also sparked a bizarre spat between Netanyahu’s Likud party and the extreme-right Jewish Power party led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, his coalition partner.

Following reports that Netanyahu had offered Ben-Gvir, who is national security minister, access to security briefings reserved for a limited number of ministers if he supported the bill, Likud said that anyone who wanted access to such information would have to “prove that he is not leaking state secrets or private conversations”.

In response, Jewish Power called for a bill to subject ministers to lie detector tests, “provided that it also applies to those with pacemakers” — in an apparent reference to Netanyahu, who had a pacemaker fitted last year after being hospitalised with heart problems.

There were also signs of tensions within Likud, with economy minister Nir Barkat — widely seen as a future challenger to Netanyahu — saying he would not support the current version of legislation that critics have said would entrench exemptions from military service for the ultraorthodox.

Likud hit back, accusing Barkat of looking for “excuses to topple a rightwing government during wartime”. Meanwhile, Netanyahu issued a statement, demanding his coalition partners “get a hold of themselves”.

“We are fighting on several fronts and face great challenges and difficult decisions,” he said. “This is not the time for petty politics or for legislation that endangers the coalition.”

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