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Israel's Defence Minister Gallant: Netanyahu ally turned critic

An Israeli army picture shows Defence Minister Yoav Gallant with soldiers in southern Israel near Rafah
— Jerusalem (AFP)

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, whose arrest warrant was sought at the International Criminal Court on Monday, was long a staunch ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but has become a vocal critic.

While the former general remains grimly committed to destroying Hamas over its October 7 attack, he has clashed with Netanyahu on the issue of Gaza's post-war governance.

While the premier has deferred the issue, Gallant has opposed any Israeli occupation and said "the 'day after Hamas' will only be achieved with Palestinian entities taking control of Gaza, accompanied by international actors".

"I will not agree to the establishment of Israeli military rule in Gaza," he said in a televised statement last week.

Gallant has been leading Israel's military offensive in retaliation to the Palestinian militant group's shock attack on Israel on October 7.

Two days after, he ordered a "complete siege" on the Gaza Strip's 2.4 million people as Israel's military pounded the territory with air strikes.

"No electricity, no food, no water, no gas -- it's all closed," Gallant said in a video message on October 9.

Since the war erupted, the vast majority of Gaza's population has been displaced and swathes of cities and neighbourhoods reduced to rubble as Israel's military campaign continues unabated.

Gallant has also repeatedly warned Hamas' allies Hezbollah of taking the fight into Lebanese territory if the Iran-backed group does not stop firing rockets into Israel.

- Top general -

Gallant, born in the Mediterranean port city of Jaffa in 1958 to Polish Holocaust survivors, was long a career soldier.

He served as an officer in the elite marine unit Flotilla-13 when it carried out an operation against the Palestinian Fatah movement in Lebanon in 1978.

The unit killed around 20 Palestinian militants, etching the operation into the Israeli military's history books.

Then, between 1982 and 1984, a young Gallant took a break from the army to work as a lumberjack in Alaska.

Back in Israel, Gallant reached the rank of general in 2002, serving as military attache to former prime minister Ariel Sharon.

He later rose to head the southern military command, overseeing Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, including the evacuation of 8,000 settlers.

In 2008-2009, commanded Israel's 22-day "Operation Cast Lead" in Gaza that killed 1,440 Palestinians and 13 Israelis -- a conflict for which a United Nations report accused both sides of war crimes.

After leaving the army, Gallant became director of a drilling company owned by Franco-Israeli tycoon Beny Steinmetz, but resigned in 2014 to enter politics.

In 2015, Gallant served as housing minister as part of the centre-right Kulanu party, then joined Netanyahu's right-wing Likud in 2019.

Under previous Netanyahu governments, Gallant served as both immigration and education minister between 2019 and 2021.

He has also been a prominent backer of Israel's settlements in the occupied West Bank, regarded as illegal under international law, that are today home to about 490,000 Jewish settlers.

Shlomo Neeman, who heads the Yesha Council, an umbrella group representing Israeli settlers in the West Bank, called him "a man who has done a lot for the settlement of Judea and Samaria," the Jewish biblical terms for the occupied Palestinian territory.