A member of Israel’s war cabinet has exposed deep internal rifts, criticizing the prime minister and urging a longer cease-fire with Hamas to free the remaining hostages while saying bluntly that Israel had yet to fully realize its military objectives in Gaza.
“We didn’t topple Hamas,” the cabinet member, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, told Uvda, an Israeli news program, in an interview broadcast late Thursday, adding: “The situation in Gaza is such that the war aims have yet to be achieved.”
General Eisenkot, a retired military chief of staff, is a nonvoting member of Israel’s five-person war cabinet, which has been making many of the most important decisions related to combat in Gaza. He joined Israel’s emergency wartime government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from an opposition faction after the Hamas-led terror attack on Oct. 7.
General Eisenkot’s views carry additional weight because of the personal price he has paid in the war: His 25-year-old son, Master Sgt. Gal Meir Eisenkot, was killed while fighting in Gaza last month, as was a nephew.
The televised interview, which was prerecorded, laid bare some of the persistent tensions within the emergency government.
General Eisenkot said Mr. Netanyahu carried “sharp and clear” responsibility for the country’s failure to protect its citizens on Oct. 7. Mr. Netanyahu has generally avoided joining other top officials in taking responsibility for the attack and its aftermath, saying that the time to investigate the failures would come after the war.
The general also said that Israel’s leaders must define a vision for how to wind down the war in Gaza, and for its desired outcome. His comments stood in contrast to statements by other Israeli officials including Mr. Netanyahu, who said Thursday that the war would last for many more months.
General Eisenkot said that only a deal with Hamas could secure further releases of people who were taken hostage in the Oct. 7 attacks. The Israeli authorities say that about 130 people remain captive in Gaza.
“For me, there’s no dilemma,” he said. “The mission is to rescue civilians, ahead of killing an enemy.”
Mr. Netanyahu has insisted that Israel remains focused on freeing the hostages, even as Israel’s military, under pressure from the United States and other supporters to ease the fighting, withdraws some forces from Gaza. Since the beginning of the conflict, at least 25 hostages have been killed in captivity, according to Israeli officials, including at least one in a botched rescue attempt. In December, soldiers misidentified three hostages as combatants and fatally shot them.
General Eisenkot said that a heroic rescue mission — like the 1976 Entebbe raid in which Israeli commandos saved the lives of 103 people aboard a hijacked plane in Uganda — “won’t happen” because the hostages were scattered and mostly being held underground.
His comments touched on one of Israel’s central dilemmas in the war: whether it should continue to pummel Hamas, risking the lives of the hostages, or agree to a cease-fire in exchange for their freedom.
Throughout the hourlong broadcast of the interview, he appeared to come down on the side of making a deal to liberate the hostages, even if Israel had to accept a longer truce with Hamas. He lamented that a weeklong cease-fire last November, during which groups of hostages were released daily in exchange for Palestinian detainees held in Israel, had lapsed because he said reaching a similar arrangement a second time would be difficult.
The general also appeared to confirm that some top officials, early in the war, had pushed for pre-emptive strikes against Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militia that Israel has clashed with almost daily since Oct. 7. The prospect of Israel engaging in a two-front war has long deeply concerned U.S. and Israeli military planners, and General Eisenkot said that he believed his party’s presence in the emergency government prevented full-blown conflict with Hezbollah, which he said would have been “a very grave strategic mistake.”
The general also spoke about shaken public confidence in the Israeli government and urged a new election “within months.” Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wing parties still holds a majority in Parliament outside the emergency government, giving it influence over when any election might take place.
Although elections could threaten wartime unity, “the Israeli public’s lack of faith in its government is no less dire,” he said.