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Israel was pretty deeply divided politically (most notably over the highly controversial Supreme Court reforms) before the Oct 7, 2023 attacks by Hamas shocked the country.

Shortly thereafter, a Unity government was announced

Israel's parliament approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's emergency unity government on Thursday, including a number of centrist opposition lawmakers, to display its determination to fight the war with Hamas in Gaza.

Most notable here is the prominence of one of Netanyahu's political rivals

Under the agreement, former Defence Minister Benny Gantz and members of his small centrist party will join Netanyahu's coalition, one of the most right-wing governments in Israel's history, which Gantz had previously bitterly opposed.

What does the Unity government change that the previous structure did not afford the Israeli government?

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Israel is a parliamentary democracy.

A "unity government" or a "national coalition government" is a special type of coalition government formed with the support of most of the major political parties represented in the Parliament. The motivating force for creating such a coalition government is often some national crisis or unique political situation in a country where a need is felt to project political solidarity to the public.

One such famous government was "Churchill's War Coalition" in the United Kingdom, during World War 2:

Two out of five members of Churchill's 1940 War Cabinet were Labour politicians, one was National and two were Conservatives. Domestic political fighting was put on hold and all three parties worked together with the common aim of defeating Nazi Germany.

When the opposition joins such a coalition government, and agrees to a set of common political goals to resolve the political crisis, the coalition government attains a kind of "super majority" in the Parliament. Thus, during war time or some other political crisis, such a government can respond and act more quickly, without the legislature holding it back.

Another advantage of such a national, coalition "unity government" is that it allows the political blame for any failures to be shared among all the parties in the coalition. (This gives the government more latitude to take publicly unpopular decisions, if necessary).

The heads of two opposition parties said Sunday they were open to the idea of temporarily joining an emergency unity government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ... National Unity party leader and former defense minister Benny Gantz said he was willing to join the government on condition that his party be given real influence in directing the war against the Palestinian terror group in Gaza.

In the negotiations for the formation of the current unity government in Israel, the opposition leaders are reported to have made the following demands:

Gantz has been insisting on the formation of a small war cabinet with “real influence” over the management of the war, expected to include at least two opposition politicians with the highest levels of military experience. Both Gantz and fellow National Unity party member Gadi Eisenkot are former Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff, and Gantz is also a former defense minister.

... The war cabinet is meant to supersede the broader security cabinet, which includes far-right party heads widely considered to be complicating Israel’s security policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians, causing Netanyahu to largely circumvent it thus far during the war.

... Opposition Leader Yair Lapid also offered to join an emergency unity government, but preconditioned his offer on sidelining “extremists.” While he did not call them out by name, Lapid was understood to have meant National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

... Liberman, also a former defense minister and a Netanyahu ally-turned-rival, offered to join the government with the precondition of a commitment to destroy Hamas’s presence in Gaza, but was not included in the talks even though the coalition is understood to support the demand in principle.

Most of these demands were acquiesced to, and a unity government was successfully formed.

An agreement is reached to bring Benny Gantz’s opposition National Unity party into an emergency government amid the war with Hamas in Gaza following days of negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz announced in a joint statement.

A small war cabinet to direct the war with Hamas will be created, as demanded by Gantz, which will include just Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Gantz ... For the duration of the war, five members of the National Unity party will be added to the broader security cabinet which operates under every government — Gantz, Eisenkot, MK Gideon Sa’ar and two others yet to be determined.

No legislation in Knesset or government resolutions will be advanced during the war that are not related to managing the war, it was agreed.

Due to Israel's political history, such "unity government" are now part of Israel's political culture - from 1967 onwards Israel has had more than 6 such national "unity governments". Thus, the Israeli public also has an expectation for a "unity government" during times of extreme crisis.

(On a side note, even Fatah and Hamas have once considered forming a "Palestinian Unity Government").

References:

  1. Unity Coalition Governments: Explainer

  2. Winston Churchill 1940

  3. Gantz, Liberman open to emergency unity government, but demand say in waging war

  4. Gantz, Netanyahu close in on emergency unity government, 5 days into war

  5. Netanyahu, Gantz agree to form emergency unity government

  6. Israel's National Unity Governments: A Retrospective

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Aside from the correct accepted answer, an additional benefit is to minimize the influence of some of the more whacko right-wing members of Bibi's cobbled-together coalition from December 2022. And bring in more experienced war leaders. Israel will have enough problems taking out Hamas as it is, before international pressure mounts to pull back, like it happened in Lebanon in 2006. Without inflaming international opinion even more by having Jewish supremacists * managing the war.

Every Israeli war is fought watching the clock, as international condemnation grows and eventually America qualifies its support. In 1973 America urged a ceasefire ending the Yom Kippur War despite Israeli forces being on the advance. In 2006, it imposed a ceasefire before Israel could achieve its objectives in Lebanon.

I.e. Israel needs to manage the war competently, minimize international opposition and prosecute suppressing Hamas, quite likely during a ground invasion, without being "disowned" too soon by an overly embarrassed United States. That's easier to do with grown ups running the show.

Economist - Netanyahu wages war and fights for his own survival

A new emergency cabinet brings military experience, but not necessarily restraint

As a former defence minister and commander of Israel’s armed forces, Mr Gantz will give heft to a government that has few ministers with experience of this kind of conflict.

This inner cabinet, which will make the main decisions related to the war, does not include any of the far-right ministers that Mr Netanyahu brought into his coalition to form his government last year.

Gantz's entry into government sidelines far right, with judicial overhaul's future dim - The Times of Israel

Critically for Gantz, it also sidelines far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit.

Both are members of the security cabinet, but will now seemingly have little direct influence over the conduct of the war. Gantz was eager to achieve this goal both so that he could be sure the war would be managed responsibly and also because of their political toxicity to Gantz’s moderate, center-right electorate.

* Bezalel Smotrich - Minister of Finance

Smotrich's extremist politics and often racist and homophobic statements have led to several controversies.[4] He is a supporter of expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank, opposes Palestinian statehood, and denies the existence of the Palestinian people.[4]

*Ben Gvir - Minister of National Security

His ultranationalist Jewish Power party has called for the expulsion of “disloyal” Palestinians, the annexation of the West Bank — the land Palestinians envision as part of their future state — and for “revenge” against anyone who stands in its way. Until last year, it was a fringe movement, repeatedly failing to muster enough votes to enter the Knesset.

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  • I'm confused. The Economist says [in the quote you gave] "does not include any of the far-right ministers". But Lapid refused to join precisely because he claims those are still in. timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/… "Lapid declines to name the extremists outright, but points to far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and independent minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich, saying their presence in the security cabinet is “no way to make decisions.” Oct 27, 2023 at 16:02
  • "Lapid calls this “a structure that can’t work, it’ll just add to the mess,” because “instead of one cabinet, [there are] two cabinets that will clash.”" Oct 27, 2023 at 16:06
  • @Fizz Above my pay grade to read the subtleties of the meaning of who is in which of the 2 cabinets or in the govt. Perhaps wanted the 2 whackos out of the government altogether, as in not holding ministerial positions, but they're not in cabinet #2. And perhaps, less charitably, Lapid sees future screwups coming and would rather wait it out? Or Lapid realizes that future negotiations with Palestinians will be problematic for whoever is too closely associated with near-future Gaza events? Who knows? But the gist of 2 articles remain: whackos are less present than might have been expected Oct 27, 2023 at 18:01
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    Note about edit rejection: the terms chosen for those 2 individuals are intentionally pejorative and form part of the intent of this answer. I hold the position that racial supremacists have no business taking part in the top government of a democratic country like Israel and make no apology for that position. But I understand, and respect, the intent of the suggested edit however. Oct 27, 2023 at 19:24
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When a country is fighting a hard and vital war, national unity is of high importance, each and every citizen must know that the politician he trusts and has voted for, is sitting in the executive branch and is part of the decision making process.

In Israel, "Na'avor Et Zhe Yahad" (we will go through this, together) has become a national slogan, displayed by government agencies as well as all types of businesses and institutions.

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Hamas attack is likely to be regarded as a catastrophic intelligence failure, for which government carries responsibility. Previous such failures, notably in Yom Kippour war and 2006 Lebanon war, resulted in investigation by state commissions (Agranat and Winograd commissions respectively), triggering resignations and massive electoral losses.

By forming the unity government Netanyahu shows that he holds the good of the country above his personal ambitions, and that he acknowledges his mistakes, possibly minimizing political damage.

It is worth noting that the report by the Winograd commission particularly stressed the lack of serious discussion among the leadership regarding the objectives and options of the military opration:

Some of the troubling findings revealed that there were serious failings and shortcomings in the decision-making processes at both the political and military levels, in preparedness, decision-making and performance in the IDF, particularly the army, in strategic thinking and planning, in both the political and the military echelons, and in the defence of the civilian population and in coping with rockets.

The decision to react immediately to the kidnapping limited Israel's range of options to only two, a stand-off war or an invasion. Israel went to war before it had decided which option to use and military and political echelons failed to have a serious discussion of the options or decide between them. Even so, until the first week of August, Israel was unprepared to launch a large-scale ground operation.

It is easy to see how the formation of the unity government, including the leading political and military experts (like Benny Gantz, the former Chief of the General Stuff) is likely to cure some of the shortcomings cited in this report.

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