Before the deadly Hamas attack on Oct. 7, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was running a divisive government widely seen as the most conservative in Israel’s history. Amid anticipation of a protracted campaign to eradicate Hamas, Mr. Netanyahu responded to political pressure and formed a unity government that included opposition leaders.
One of its main conditions was the establishment of a “war management cabinet” that would oversee the fighting and dilute the power of far-right politicians in Mr. Netanyahu’s government. Mr. Netanyahu said in a prime-time address on Wednesday that the war cabinet would play a key role in determining when Israel begins a ground invasion of Gaza.
Three main members of the war cabinet vote and make decisions:
Mr. Netanyahu, of the Likud party, is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and has dominated Israeli politics for nearly 15 years. He served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009 to 2021 before returning to office in late 2022.
Yoav Gallant, a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s party, is Israel’sdefense minister. A former general, he had broken with Mr. Netanyahu earlier this year in calling for the suspension of an overhaul of Israel’s judiciary, a plan that had sparked huge protests. Some Israelis opposed to Mr. Netanyahu view him as more responsible and pragmatic than his colleagues.
Benny Gantz is a former military chief of staff who oversaw Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza in 2014 and has been one of Mr. Netanyahu’s chief political rivals, but joined his emergency government after the Oct. 7 attacks. Mr. Gantz and his colleagues from the opposition National Unity allianceare seen as more moderate, experienced and pragmatic than Mr. Netanyahu’s earlier partners, lending its decisions more credibility.
The unity government agreement also includes two “observer” members in the war cabinet who do not vote but participate in the meetings. They include:
Gadi Eisenkot,an opposition politician, is a former Israeli military chief of staff. During his tenure, Israel escalated strikes in Syria in an effort to prevent Iranian-backed militias from entrenching their control on Israel’s borders.
Ron Dermer, a Likud member, is one of Mr. Netanyahu’s closest advisers. Once the Israeli ambassador to the United States, he currently serves as Israel’s minister for strategic affairs. He worked on Israel’s attempt to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia and to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Before the war, he was also one of the few Israeli politicians from Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition to regularly and publicly speak with U.S. counterparts.
Other hard-line figures are not members of the war cabinet but are in a broader security cabinet of government ministers that also plays a role in running the war effort. They include Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister and an ultranationalist who opposes Palestinian sovereignty and has called to govern Israel by Jewish law, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister and one of the most extreme voices in the Israeli government.
On paper, the war cabinet was established to implement the decisions of the broader security cabinet, said Prof. Amichai Cohen, an expert in national security law at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based research group.
Some major decisions, such as whether to agree to a cease-fire, would likely require the security cabinet’s approval, he said. But there is no law that defines the security cabinet’s authority, and the war cabinet likely has wide latitude to operate and carry out “the real management of the war,” he said.