Introducing ‘national emergency government,’ Netanyahu says Hamas shot children in head, burned people alive, raped women; Gantz says partisan politics put aside to safeguard Israel

From left, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Unity head Benny Gantz at a press conference on October 11, 2023 announcing Israel’s national emergency government. (screen capture: PMO)

Standing alongside his partners in Israel’s newly announced war cabinet, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday pledged to obliterate Hamas, at the close of the fifth day of war against the terror group controlling the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of Hamas terrorists burst into southern Israel and carried out a devastating assault on Saturday, killing at least 1,200 people, most of whom were civilians, and many of whom were massacred.

“We will wipe out this thing called Hamas,” Gallant said in the Wednesday evening press conference. “Hamas — the Islamic State of Gaza — will be wiped from the face of the earth. It will not continue to exist. There will be no situation in which Israeli children are murdered and we all go about our business.”

Gallant described the Hamas onslaught as “the worst terror attack the world has ever seen.” And he cited “children bound together and murder, people burned, barbaric deeds that the Jewish people has not suffered since 1945.”

Speaking just before him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also described the horrific killings and vowed that “every Hamas member is a dead man.”

Said Netanyahu: “We saw the beasts of prey. We saw the barbarians that we are facing. We saw a cruel enemy. An enemy worse than ISIS. We saw boys and girls, bound, shot in the head. Men and women burned alive. Young women raped and slaughtered. Fighters decapitated… In one place, they set fire to tires around them, and burned them alive.”

“How staggering the atrocity. How great the pain,” he said, but also cited the acts of heroism of those who fought the terrorists. Now, “we are fighting with full force, on every front; we have gone onto the attack.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at a press conference announcing Israel’s national emergency government, October 11, 2023 (GPO screenshot)

Earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu and National Unity party head Benny Gantz announced that National Unity was joining Netanyahu’s hardline partners to form a “national emergency government.” As part of the arrangement, Gantz, Netanyahu and Gallant will form a war cabinet, and four more of Gantz’s party members will join the broader security cabinet. Opposition leader Yair Lapid has not joined the new partnership.

The dramatic shift in Israeli politics would have been considered unthinkable only days earlier, with Gantz locked in a national-stage battle against Netanyahu over his coalition’s efforts to shackle Israel’s judiciary. But Gantz and the prime minister said that they decided to put politics aside to unify efforts on behalf of the nation, after critics called out the pair for taking several days to hammer out details even as the scale of Hamas’s atrocities became clearer and the war continued.

“The Jewish nation is unified, and today its leadership is also unified,” Netanyahu said, in televised remarks alongside Gallant and Gantz. “We put aside every other consideration because the fate of our nation is at stake. We’ll work together, shoulder to shoulder, on behalf of the citizens of Israel, for the State of Israel,” he continued.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference announcing Israel’s national emergency government, October 11, 2023 (GPO screenshot)

Also alluding to the need to quickly repair the rifts in Israel’s social fabric owing to nine continuous months of fighting over the boundaries of judicial and political power, Gantz delivered a similar message, saying that: “Our standing here, shoulders to shoulder, is a clear message to our enemies, and more important than that, a message to all of Israel, we are together, we’re all enlisted in this.”

Making a play on his own National Unity party name, which in Hebrew uses the word for “camp,” Gantz said that “at this moment there is only one camp – the camp of the State of Israel.”

“Our partnership isn’t political; it’s for the destiny of Israel,” Gantz added.

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks at a press conference announcing Israel’s national emergency government, October 11, 2023 (GPO screenshot)

Gantz, a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and defense minister, made early overtures to join Netanyahu’s government on a temporary basis for the duration of the war, in part to sideline influence from extremist cabinet members like National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Netanyahu has been criticized for not leaning on his security cabinet, which by law must include Ben Gvir and Smotrich’s positions, and alternatively for having placed the two lawmakers in sensitive posts.

Burnt cars are left behind at the site of the attack three days earlier by Palestinian terrorists on the Supernova desert music near Kibbutz Reim in the Negev desert in southern Israel, on October 10, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The IDF’s stated goal for the broadening Israel-Hamas war is to destroy Hamas’s military capabilities. While Gallant did not explicitly say that the new war cabinet expects to widen that goal to removing Hamas as a civilian power, the war cabinet does have the authority to expand the military’s mission.

According to the thin agreement signed between Gantz and Netanyahu on Wednesday, the war cabinet can choose to, on its first meeting, “update, as necessary, military and strategic aims for the conflict,” subject to approval from the broader security cabinet.

Gantz said that “extraordinary actions” will be taken, and that “this war will provide security for years ahead for all of Israel.”

Since Saturday, Israel has hammered Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip with air strikes. In addition to more than 1,500 Hamas terrorists killed inside of Israel, the Hamas-run Health Ministry has reported more than 800 dead inside of Gaza. Israel has said it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates.

The prime minister, who said he has spoken with US President Joe Biden four times since the Saturday outbreak of war, cited “unprecedented” international support for Israel, including the US’s airlift of ammunition and promises to restock Iron Dome interceptors, as well its sending an aircraft carrier to the region.

An IDF soldier prepares to remove the bodies of Israelis killed during an October 7, 2023, attack by Palestinian terrorists, in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, in southern Israel bordering the Gaza Strip, on October 10, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Although the government has come under fire for failing to foresee Hamas’s brutal attack, the military’s relatively slow organized response to the ongoing atrocities, and the relative silence of government ministers in its immediate aftermath, Gantz said that it was most important now to focus on delivering “resolute answers on the battlefield,” rather than asking “hard questions.”

He also added that he “hopes” other opposition parties will join the government, and a place is said to be reserved for Yesh Atid party head Lapid.

Lapid made the first public overture to join Netanyahu’s government during wartime, but a source close to the Yesh Atid leader said Wednesday that there is no ongoing conversation to bring Lapid into the cabinet.

Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman, who like Gantz and Lapid once sat in government with Netanyahu but today is a political rival, had also offered to join the government, without pre-conditions.

On Wednesday evening, the existing government approved appending National Unity ministers into the emergency government, and the decisions will be finalized by Knesset vote on Thursday.

The Knesset will convene to vote at 7 p.m. on Thursday evening to approve the addition of the five National Unity MKs to the security cabinet; Gantz, Gadi Eisenkot, Gideon Sa’ar, Chili Tropper and Yifat Shasha-Biton. The five will swear in as ministers immediately after the vote.

As reported by The Times of Israel