CNN  — 

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz has resigned from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, delivering a blow to the prime minister who has been celebrating the rare rescue of hostages held in Gaza.

“Netanyahu prevents us from moving forward to a real victory [in Gaza],” Gantz said in a televised statement Sunday in which he described leaving the government as a “complex and painful” decision.

“That is why we are leaving the emergency government today with a heavy heart, but with a whole heart,” he said.

Gantz – considered Netanyahu’s main political challenger – said he was quitting eight-months after the October 7 Hamas attacks because “the situation in the country and in the decision-making room has changed.”

He accused Netanyahu of putting his own personal political considerations ahead of a post-war strategy for the Gaza Strip, claiming that “fateful strategic decisions are met with hesitancy and procrastination due to political considerations,” and urged the prime minister to hold an election in the coming months.

“I call on Netanyahu: set an agreed election date. Do not let our people be torn apart,” Gantz said.

The decision by Gantz fulfils an ultimatum he gave the prime minister last month calling on him to lay out a new plan for the war against Hamas by June 8.

Nir Elias/Reuters
Israeli Minister Benny Gantz addresses the media after announcing his resignation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency government on June 9, 2024.

Gantz had been expected to resign on Saturday, but postponed the announcement following news that Israeli forces had rescued four hostages in an operation Gazan officials said left more than 270 Palestinians dead.

His resignation comes despite Netanyahu calling on Gantz to stay in Israel’s emergency government, saying this is the time for unity, not division. Following Gantz’s announcement, Netanyahu urged him to change his mind.

“Benny, this is not the time to abandon the campaign – this is the time to join forces,” Netanyahu said to Gantz in a post on X.

“Citizens of Israel, we will continue until victory and all the goals of the war have been achieved, most importantly, the release of all our hostages and the elimination of Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said his door remained open to any political party that is ready to share in the burden of fighting the war against Hamas, and will “help bring victory over our enemies and ensure the security of our citizens.”

Gantz’s decision does not put Netanyahu’s government in immediate danger – his party was not part of the prime minister’s coalition, which retains a majority with 64-seats in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s parliament. It would however leave the war cabinet, set up four days after Hamas’ October 7 attack, without representation from any party other than Netanyahu’s Likud.

02:55 - Source: CNN
Video shows deadly impact of Israel’s rescue operation in Gaza

Besides the prime minister, the only other remaining member of the emergency government with decision-making power is Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, also from Likud. (Though following Gantz’s announcement, the far-right Israeli National Security Minister Ben Gvir demanded to join the war cabinet).

Gantz’ decision comes as Netanyahu faces growing calls from Israel’s Western allies and families of hostages held in Gaza to end the war and bring back the captives.

Eight months since the war started, Israel is yet to achieve its stated objectives as most of Hamas’ top leadership remains at large and more than 100 hostages are held in the enclave.

Eyad Baba/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinian firefighters battle a flame a day after a hostage rescue operation by the Israeli Special Forces in the Nuseirat camp, in the central Gaza Strip, on June 9, 2024.

The United States has repeatedly called on the prime minister to present a tangible post-war plan for Gaza. US President Joe Biden, who laid out a three-pronged Israeli peace deal proposal last week, has suggested that Netanyahu is likely benefiting from prolonging the conflict.

Gantz, a 64-year-old former defense minister, said last month that Netanyahu should submit a plan that should include the elimination of Hamas, the return of hostages from Gaza, the establishment of an alternative government in the enclave, the return of displaced Israelis from the north of the country, and a plan to make progress on normalization with Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu had rejected Gantz’s threat, saying his ultimatum would harm Israel.

In April, Gantz called for early elections to be held as soon as September, ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war, saying “Israeli society needs to renew its contract with its leadership.”

Gantz often surpasses the prime minister in popularity, according to opinion polls. A survey published Friday by the Israeli Maariv newspaper showed support for Gantz at 42%, compared to 34% for Netanyahu.

The war cabinet, which Gantz was a member of, operates independently from the broader Israeli government. It is responsible for making decisions related to the fighting in Gaza.

“He (Gantz) joined the government four days after October 7 in order to balance things out with the far right, prevent reckless decision-making,” Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli diplomat, wrote in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. “In his mind, he was the responsible adult in a government filled with inept and messianic misfits.”

As the war dragged on, with displaced residents of northern Israel unable to return home and hostages remaining captive in Gaza, Gantz may have realized he would lose popularity by staying in the cabinet, Pinkas said.

“The longer Gantz remains in the government, the weaker Gantz will get,” Pinkas wrote. “The more identical his positions are to those of the prime minister, the more he’ll lose on both sides. Right-wingers will return home and centrists will seek other options.”

This is a developing story. More to come.