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Israel sends Shin Bet delegation to Egypt as Netanyahu, Gallant clash

The split in the Israeli cabinet came as Hamas claimed an attack that targeted Israeli troops with a projectile in Gaza City and as its leader Ismail Haniyeh rejected any settlement that excludes the group from power in Gaza after the war.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) leaves the State Department after meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the US State Department in Washington, on March 25, 2024.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly over his indecision on who will govern Gaza the day after Hamas is defeated.

Addressing journalists for the first time in months, Gallant said that the military establishment had already stated on the eve of the Oct. 27 ground offensive in Gaza that an alternative to Hamas must be presented. 

"The military campaign must end with a diplomatic action. The day after Hamas can only be achieved via elements that would constitute an alternative to Hamas. This is first and foremost an Israeli interest," said Gallant, stressing that such a plan was not brought forward for discussion in the war cabinet. "An [Israeli] military and civil governing of Gaza is a bad alternative [that] is dangerous to Israel," he warned.

“As long as Hamas retains control over civilian life in Gaza, it may rebuild and strengthen, thus requiring the Israeli military to return and fight in areas where it has already operated. . . . We must dismantle Hamas’ governing capabilities in Gaza. The key to this goal is military action and the establishment of a governing alternative in Gaza,” said Gallant, adding that inaction would only "erode our military achievements, reduce the pressure on Hamas and sabotage the chances of achieving a framework for the release of hostages.”

Reacting to Gallant, Netanyahu published on social media a video clip in which he said that said there will be no discussion on who governs Gaza before Hamas is eliminated. He said that “as long as Hamas remains intact, no other party will step in to manage civilian affairs in Gaza, certainly not the Palestinian Authority,” adding that he is “not ready to replace Hamastan with Fatahstan.” Fatah is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ party.

Hard-line Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called on Netanyahu to fire Gallant for allegedly "supporting the establishment of a Palestinian terror state." In contrast, war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz said, "Gallant told the truth. It is the responsibility of the leadership to do the right thing for the country, at any price."

Hamas claims attack

The split in the Israeli cabinet came as Hamas said on Wednesday that its armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, had targeted Israeli troops with a projectile in the Zeitoun district of Gaza City. A video posted by its affiliated news outlet, Safa, showed a gunman with a rocket launcher firing at a group of Israeli soldiers in the area. The Israeli military did not immediately comment on the report.

In a speech broadcast on Wednesday, Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh addressed the group’s postwar plans for the Gaza Strip. He plainly rejected any postwar settlement that excludes Hamas, adding that the group will participate in the administration of Gaza after the war.

“We say . . .  that Hamas and the al-Qassam Brigades are here to stay and administer the Strip,” said Haniyeh.

Haniyeh additionally praised Qatar's and Egypt’s efforts to achieve a cease-fire, saying Hamas agrees with Cairo on the necessity of Israel withdrawing from the Rafah crossing.

Egypt condemned Israel’s takeover of the crossing last week.

Israel trying to resolve crisis with Egypt

As Netanyahu reiterated his resolve to continue operating in Gaza in order to "eliminate" Hamas, a delegation of Israeli security and intelligence seniors led by the Shin Bet and by COGAT head Ghassan Alian traveled to Cairo Wednesday for a visit of a few hours in an attempt to resolve the recent crisis with Egypt over the Rafah crossing.

Journalist Barak Ravid quoted an unnamed Israeli source as saying that the Israeli delegation held talks on the issue with their Egyptian counterparts in order to find a solution.

Egypt is asking for Israel to give control of the Gaza side of the crossing to Palestinian officials. Evidently, Israel will not hand over control of the Rafah crossing back to Hamas. Will it agree to hand it over to PA officials? This option might have been discussed, though neither of the sides confirmed it.

Egypt closed the Rafah crossing shortly after Israel on May 7 entered eastern Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, where it took over the Gaza side of the crossing point. Israel decided to take control over the crossing for two reasons: to stop the smuggling of arms into the Strip and to damage the governing capabilities of Hamas. Blaming Israel for escalating the security situation and aggravating the humanitarian crisis, Egypt said it would not cooperate with Israeli authorities, effectively blocking humanitarian aid trucks from entering via the Rafah crossing. 

Since the May 7 operation, the Kerem Shalom crossing, on Israel's southern border with Gaza, has also been closed. Israel said it will reopen it, per a US request, but it is not clear whether trucks are indeed crossing there. Aid is entering northern Gaza  via the new West Erez crossing point, but only in small quantities a day. 

Tensions between Israel and Egypt over the Rafah crossing escalated Wednesday when Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, traded accusations on the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in southern Gaza. 

Katz wrote on X that he had spoken with British Foreign Minister David Cameron and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock "about the need to persuade Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing to allow continued delivery of international humanitarian aid to Gaza," adding that he intends to discuss the same issue with his Italian counterpart, Antonio Tajani. "The key to preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is now in the hands of our Egyptian friends," noted Katz.

A statement issued by Shoukry in response underlined his "categorical rejection of the policy of distorting facts and disavowing responsibility adopted by Israel." Shoukry added that Israel was "solely responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe currently endured by Palestinians in Gaza."