Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

When the U.S. finally abstained from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution demanding for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza on March 25, it prompted a slew of angry remarks from Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled a delegation [which was eventually reinstated] to Washington to express his disappointment, which meant that his Defence Minister Yoav Gallant was left alone in the U.S. to deal with the immediate aftermath of the significant update.

Mr. Gallant, a member of Israel’s three-member war Cabinet who infamously likened Palestinians to “human animals” while ordering a complete siege of Gaza after the October 7 Hamas attack, has been instrumental in leading the war on the enclave. A former soldier himself, Mr. Gallant has not always had it easy with Israel’s top brass. He was believed to be not particularly close to Mr. Netanyahu previously, who had cancelled his appointment as the Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in 2011 due to allegations related to seizure of public lands for personal use.

In 2023, Mr. Netanyahu fired him from the post of Defence Minister after he warned the administration of a security threat due to a proposed judicial overhaul. Mr. Gallant was, however, reinstated following public outrage. A member of the Prime Minister’s right-wing Likud Party, Mr. Gallant was among the first senior leaders who spoke against the judicial overhaul which proposed limiting the Supreme Court’s powers and preventing judges from striking down government decisions on the ground that they are ‘unreasonable’.

Born to a Holocaust-survivor mother who arrived in Israel onboard the SS Exodus and a father with military roots, Mr. Gallant began his military career as a naval commando with the 13th Flotilla, also called Shayetet 13, which specialises in operating in the sea, on land, and in the air. He spent six years with the unit, before taking a break from the armed forces. Like many Israeli soldiers who travel overseas after their military service periods (many of whom find themselves in India’s Himachal Pradesh to “unwind”), Mr. Gallant went to Alaska and worked as a lumberjack for two years before returning to Israel. He first rejoined the Navy before transferring to the IDF.

Mr. Gallant was appointed the military secretary of late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and was promoted to Major General — setting him up for his future roles within the IDF as well as Israeli politics.

During his tenure with the IDF, he moved up to serve with the Gaza Division. He commanded the 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in which around 1,400 Palestinians were killed in 22 days, Amnesty International reported. The operation put him in the 2011 race for the IDF Chief of Staff, even as a UN report accused Israel of committing war crimes during the offensive.

Political entry

In 2015, Mr. Gallant moved to politics after over 35 years with the armed forces. He joined the newly formed Kulanu Party, and was elected to the Knesset (Parliament) after the party won 10 seats. He was appointed the Minister of Construction.

By 2019, Mr. Gallant had crossed over to the Likud Party and was appointed the Minister of Education. As the Education Minister, he attempted to cancel the award of Israel Prize to Oded Goldreich, a scientist at the Weizmann Institute, who reportedly supported the “anti-Zionist” Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Mr. Gallant became the Defence Minister in 2022.

In January 2024, he outlined his vision for the future of Gaza, which, according to him, would be an enclave run by a Palestinian body under overall Israeli control. Since the October 7 Hamas attack in which at least 1,200 Israelis were killed and around 240 taken as hostages, Israel has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians in its offensive in Gaza and forced most of the strip’s population out of their homes amid continuous bombings. After the U.S. abstained from vetoing the UNSC resolution on March 25, Mr. Gallant has proactively met with leaders in Washington, sometimes referring to supporters as “true friends of Israel” in an apparent dig at U.S. President Joe Biden. And now, he is back in Israel, and is threatening to expand operations against Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.


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