Netanyahu delays firing of dissenting Defence Minister Gallant

PM and his defence chief are reportedly set to visit soldiers together later on Monday in latest sign of thaw.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to delay the firing of Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in light of ongoing security tensions, Israel’s public broadcaster reports.

With tensions running high during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year coincides with the Jewish Passover, and continuing concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, public broadcaster Kan reported on Monday that Netanyahu had decided to hold off on the minister’s dismissal, which the prime minister had announced more than a week ago.

“Due to the evolving security situation, Netanyahu will attend to the matter of the defence minister down the line,” the broadcaster cited a political source as saying.

On March 26, Netanyahu announced that he had sacked Gallant, a day after the minister spoke out against the government’s planned judicial overhaul. Protests erupted, and despite Netanyahu’s announcement, the defence chief remained in his position.

Gallant, a senior member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, became the first minister to break ranks with the prime minister by calling for the legislation to overhaul Israel’s judiciary to be frozen.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant
Gallant is a senior member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party [File Photo: Amir Cohen/Reuters]

The plan, which critics say will give the far-right government more power over the Supreme Court, sparked mass protests across Israel, angered military and business leaders, and raised concerns among Israel’s allies.

Gallant had reportedly voiced concerns that the divisions in Israeli society were hurting morale in the military and emboldening the country’s rivals across the region.

“I see how the source of our strength is being eroded,” Gallant said.

Netanyahu and his allies have argued that the proposed judicial changes would restore balance between the judicial and executive branches and rein in what they see as an interventionist court with liberal sympathies.

But critics say the constellation of amendments will remove the checks and balances in Israel’s democratic system and concentrate power in the hands of the governing coalition, which is now the most far right in Israel’s history.

Netanyahu relented and suspended the contested reforms to allow for talks with opposition parties.

Israeli media reported that there have been efforts in recent days to end the rift between Netanyahu and Gallant.

Two Israeli officials who requested anonymity told the Reuters news agency that Gallant and Netanyahu would visit two military bases on Monday evening to toast troops for the Passover holiday. Details on such visits are generally not published in advance on security grounds.

On Sunday, Gallant visited an army brigade in the occupied West Bank, where he warned against Iranian interference in Israeli affairs.

“We will not allow the Iranians and Hezbollah to harm us,” the minister said. “We have not allowed it in the past, we won’t allow it now or anytime in the future.”

“All our fronts are tense,” Gallant added. “The Iranians are extending their outreach to [the West Bank] and Gaza and are attempting to entrench themselves in Syria and Lebanon.”

Israel on Monday blamed Iran for being behind a drone that its military shot down over Israeli airspace on Sunday. There has been no response from the Iranian side to the claims.

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