December 10, 2023

The war cabinet’s decision to permit two fuel tankers into the Gaza Strip per day touched off a firestorm late last week, as both government ministers and opposition figures harshly criticized the move. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich fired off a furious letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling the decision “unacceptable” and demanding that the war cabinet be expanded to include him and the heads of the other factions in the government. The move, he wrote, “spits in the face of the IDF soldiers, the hostages and their families, and the bereaved families. It is also contrary to the decision of the security cabinet and therefore is illegal. This is not how you win a war, this is not how you destroy Hamas, and this is not how we will return the hostages.” National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, too, criticized the move. He said, “As long as the hostages are not even visited by the Red Cross, there is no sense in giving ‘humanitarian gifts’ to the enemy.” Former minister Avigdor Liberman also joined the chorus, tweeting, “Stop fueling the Nazis from Hamas!” He called to stop this recklessness at once. The war cabinet’s decision marks a reversal of the position previously expressed by government leaders, who had vowed that “not a drop” of fuel would enter Gaza until the hostages are freed. But in a rapidly changing wartime environment, a decision that may have been correct two weeks ago may no longer be today, and shifting circumstances may require decision-makers to adapt accordingly. As National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a press conference Friday, the war cabinet’s decision was made in response to a “special request” by the United States and is meant to enable Gaza’s water and sewage systems to operate, preventing the spread of disease. Former IDF chief of staff and defense minister Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet, noted that the decision was made unanimously. He said, “This specific transfer was approved at the request of international actors in order to enable the operation of water treatment and sewage systems, and for other needs of the organizations active in the southern Gaza Strip. This is not a shift in strategy, but is rather addressing a specific need that will enable the IDF to continue operating.” Netanyahu himself said that the provision of humanitarian aid is “essential” to maintain international support for Israel’s military effort and enable it to continue pursuing its wartime goals. “Without humanitarian aid, even our closest friends will find it difficult to support us over time and it will be very difficult to see this war through to the end,” he said. “That’s why when the IDF and the Shin Bet jointly recommended that the cabinet accept the American request… the war cabinet agreed unanimously.” This episode illustrates that wartime decisions are best made by those willing to make responsible decisions based on the most up-to-date circumstances and information, rather than by armchair generals who spout hollow slogans for narrow political purposes. It also illustrates that the war cabinet is best populated by the former and has no need for the latter.