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Israel's top leaders are divided over the handling of the war in Gaza


A war of words has erupted among leaders in Israel over the government's handling of the war in Gaza. The country's defense minister and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have been trading barbs about how to plan for the so-called day after the war has ended. This comes as Netanyahu faces increasing criticism from the public and Israel's allies, including the U.S. NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam reports from Tel Aviv.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: For several months after October 7, when Hamas attacked Israel and killed roughly 1,200 people, Netanyahu faced little criticism about his handling of the war in Gaza. But as the conflict has dragged on for more than seven months, there's a growing chorus of complaints against him - from the public, the U.S., and now, most worryingly, the military.


YOAV GALLANT: (Non-English language spoken).

NORTHAM: Today, Israel's Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, called on Netanyahu to declare that Israel will not establish civilian or military control over Gaza. He also rebuked the prime minister for not holding any discussions about what will replace Hamas in the enclave, even though he had been pushing Netanyahu for months to do so. Gallant said not discussing a plan is dangerous.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Non-English language spoken).

NORTHAM: Netanyahu had already released his own video dismissing any talk about the so-called day after, saying it's irrelevant until Hamas is defeated militarily. He hinted that plans for replacing the militant group are covert. The challenge to Netanyahu comes at a time when Hamas is regrouping in parts of Gaza. More than a hundred hostages have yet to be released, and Israelis are weary of the fighting.

Nadav Eyal, a senior editor with Yedioth Ahronoth, says Netanyahu's political opponents believe he's delaying day-after talks so as not to upset far-right-wing members of his cabinet who want to occupy Gaza once Hamas is eliminated. Israel occupied the enclave and had a number of settlements there until 2005. Some settlers have been calling openly for a return.

NADAV EYAL: His political rivals are saying that the prime minister knows full well that if he'll start talking about the day after, the far-right, an important ally of the prime minister and the government and the coalition, will withdraw from the government, and the government will fall.

NORTHAM: Already, two powerful ultra-right-wing members of the government have entered into the fray, calling for Gallant's dismissal and on Netanyahu to ensure no Palestinian group will govern Gaza once the fighting stops. Netanyahu issued another statement, saying that wouldn't happen. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.