Ben-Gvir, Smotrich threaten Netanyahu over Gaza, demand Rafah operation

Ben-Gvir, Smotrich threaten Netanyahu over Gaza, demand Rafah operation
Netanyahu announced that a date had been set for an invasion of Gaza's southern city of Rafah after threats from Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.
2 min read
09 April, 2024
Ben-Gvir and Smotrich have repeatedly threatened to pull out of Netanyahu's government over Gaza [Getty]

Far-right members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition cabinet have threatened to withdraw their support for him if he doesn't continue his war on Gaza and carry out an attack on Rafah.

In a post on X, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said that if Netanyahu doesn't end the war on Gaza without a large-scale offensive in Rafah, "he will not have a mandate to continue serving as prime minister."

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also threatened Netanyahu, demanding in a letter that a cabinet meeting be held to discuss the war, citing the withdrawal of Israeli soldiers from southern Gaza and proposals at the ongoing negotiations in Cairo.

Israel's military withdrew all its forces from southern Gaza except the Nahal brigade operating in the Netzarim Corridor this week. This includes the 98th division which had been operating in Khan Younis.

The main points that have arisen in ongoing talks in Cairo between Israel and Hamas include a potential six-week ceasefire, the exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, and the return of Palestinians to northern Gaza.

Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition and head of Yesh Atid, said he would support the government reaching a truce  agreement with Hamas if Ben Gvir and Smotrich rebelled against the government.

However, following the far-right threats, Netanyahu announced that he had set a date for an Israeli invasion of Gaza's southern city of Rafah, which currently houses 1.4 million Palestinians, most of whom were forcibly displaced from other areas of the Gaza Strip.

"Victory [over Hamas] requires entering Rafah and eliminating the terrorist battalions there. This will happen. There is a date," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu also said that he had received a report from the negotiations in Cairo and reaffirmed his commitment to freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas. Around 129 Israeli hostages are believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza.

His announcement was seconded by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who said that Israel's withdrawal from Khan Younis was to prepare for an invasion of Rafah.

Israel's threats to invade Rafah have met with international criticism over concerns that thousands of civilians could be killed and already dire humanitarian situation exacerbated.

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Israel has said that it plans to evacuate civilians ahead of the offensive, with an Israeli official telling the Times of Israel that it sought 40,000 tents to house 500,000 people as part of the preparations.

The US has refused to agree to Israel's proposal, calling the plan unrealistic.

Israel's war on Gaza has killed 33,360 Palestinians, mostly women and children, with a further 75,933 injured.