Five days ago, the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin NetanyahuThe decision to fire his defense minister set off a wave of spontaneous mass protests and a general strike that threatened to paralyze the country, forcing the Israeli leader to abandon his divisive plan to overhaul the justice system.

But Netanyahu never even sent Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant a formal letter of resignation, a Netanyahu spokesman said. As of Friday, Gallant — whose criticism of Netanyahu’s planned judicial changes led to his dismissal — was still on the job. Gallant’s aides said it was business-as-usual at the Defense Ministry.

As local media crackled this week with reports of Netanyahu considering whether to replace Gallant with credentialists from his far-right Likud party, Gallant remained in limbo — and, for that matter, the public face of his ministry.

He greeted Azerbaijan’s foreign minister, toured two military bases and attended Tuesday’s Security Council meeting this week. On Thursday, Gallant attended a celebration ahead of the Jewish Passover holiday with the head of the Shin Bet security service, his office said, releasing a photo of him smiling next to Director Ronen Bar.

“We have a duty to calm the spirits of Israeli society and maintain an inclusive and unifying discourse,” Gallant said at this weekend’s toast.

The questions swirling around the fate of Israel’s crucial Defense Ministry – which maintains Israel’s 55-year military occupation of the West Bank and contends with threats from Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group and the Gaza Strip’s militant Hamas rulers – reflect the tensions tearing at Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition after one of the most dramatic weeks for Israel in decades. It is also a leadership test of Israel’s oldest prime minister as he rules a deeply polarized country and faces allegations of corruption.

Netanyahu’s decision to pause plans to weaken Israel’s supreme court in the face of the country’s biggest protest movement underscores the complex juggling act the prime minister must perform to keep his governing coalition together, experts say.

On the one hand, Netanyahu must please his far-right and religiously conservative coalition partners – supporters of the judicial review – who elected him to power despite his trial.

But he must also consider serious concerns about the plan from Israel’s closet ally, the United States, as well as anger from more moderate politicians and, significantly, dissidents within Israel’s military over fears that the national crisis could threaten the country’s security. A growing number of military reservists had declined to report for duty in protest against the measures, raising concerns that the crisis could damage Israel’s military capabilities.

Netanyahu’s office declined to comment further on Gallant’s unresolved situation. But the conflicting pressures have resulted in an impasse over Gallant’s future and who serves as defense secretary.

“Netanyahu has extremists surrounding him and they want to see blood, they want to see Gallant removed,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

These politicians include far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezazel Smotrich, who were given excessive power in coalition deals that persuaded them to join the government.

But as the first senior Likud official to break ranks over the judicial review, Gallant has proven to be “someone who is more concerned with the national interest than Netanyahu’s personal interest,” Talshir added.

Officially firing and replacing him could trigger a backlash not only from the tens of thousands of Israeli protesters who take to the streets every week and from Israel’s already jittery military officials, but also from the Biden administration, she said.

The United States, which provides Israel with an annual aid package of more than $3 billion and diplomatic support in international forums, has expressed concern about Netanyahu’s efforts to change the Israeli justice system. President Joe BidenThe outspoken criticism of the review this week – even after Netanyahu’s decision to halt it – led to a rare open dispute between the allies.

“The Biden administration saw Gallant as someone reliable, someone they could work with,” said Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The legal plan would give the embattled Netanyahu and his allies the final say in appointing the nation’s judges. It would also give parliament, which is controlled by his allies, the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions and limit the court’s ability to review laws. Critics say the plan would irreparably weaken Israel’s system of checks and balances and lead the country toward autocracy.

When Netanyahu this week met with potential alternatives to Gallant, such as Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Israeli media reported a flurry of proposals that would allow Gallant to stay on — including him offering a public apology, or remaining as defense minister but resigning from parliament and losing their ability to vote against the review.

But on Friday it emerged that Gallant and Netanyahu still had not reached an agreement.

“At the bottom of all this is the realization by (Netanyahu) and most of Likud that the firing of Gallant was a big mistake,” Yaari said. “Netanyahu is trying to stay above water, but he can’t quite swim.”