Benny Gantz’s tall order: Convincing Israel that he can update Netanyahu


As a young military recruit, Benny Gantz’s first venture was to participate in securing Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Israel in 1977. Twenty-3 years later, he becomes the remaining Israeli soldier to depart Lebanon after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2000.

Today, four years after he left the navy as its 20th chief of the workforce, he’s the first man or woman in a protracted whilst who has a practical chance of replacing Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s top minister.

Though he has zero political experience and the high-tech employer he chaired for three years become a impressive failure, Gantz, a tall, 59-year-vintage father of four, seems to be convincing an increasingly massive organization of the Israeli electorate that he can lead u . S . Better than his former boss.


“He’s genuinely high ministerial cloth,” enthused Dan Arbell, a former Israeli diplomat and these days a senior fellow on the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. “I agree with he’s created from the proper stuff: His coronary heart is in the right location, he’s a strategic philosopher, a humanist, he has remarkable navy revel in. I assume he’ll be a high-quality, high minister.”

Despite not having submitted a single piece of regulation, in no way having performed coalition negotiations or faced inquisitive reporters’ questions on his political positions, Gantz has constructed a political platform and an alliance with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, that poses the most important threat to this point to Netanyahu’s decade-lengthy rule.

The former navy leader’s lack of political enjoyment doesn’t always suggest he received’t do well as the high minister, argued Arbell, who 10 years in the past worked with Gantz at the Israeli embassy in Washington and nowadays teaches Israeli politics public coverage on the American University there. “He’ll study as he is going along. He has appropriate advisers.”

Gantz changed into reasonably nicely in the polls even before he based his Israel Resilience celebration in December. But for the first few weeks of the modern election season, the birthday party did no longer certainly threaten the ruling Likud, which appeared set truthful for another victory under Netanyahu.

But shortly earlier than the deadline for filing Knesset electoral slates last month, the rookie flesh-presser merged Israel Resilience with different events — former Likud defense minister and IDF chief Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem and Lapid’s Yesh Atid — and co-opted a 3rd former IDF leader, Gabi Ashkenazi.

Blue and White, as the brand new alliance is called, is a motley team: the ones 3 former military chiefs, a few former reporters, two ex-Netanyahu aides, an outgoing, hard work union chief, a former deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, and numerous different self-proclaimed centrists who apparently have little in not unusual except their choice to dethrone Netanyahu.

But despite the apparent ideological dissonance among its Knesset hopefuls, the alliance proves more popular than its various elements proved while walking separately. Some surveys endorse it can curtail the Netanyahu generation, and the top minister has told his supporters that he’s concerned.

One of the primary reasons for the new slate’s predicted achievement is Gantz’s own popularity. Human beings at the Blue and White price ticket who have the same army enjoy — Ya’alon and Ashkenazi, his predecessors as chiefs of staff, have been once his superiors — and are arguably more competent within the political and economic geographical regions. His opening political speeches were instead stiff shows, but his supporters insist he radiates charisma.

“He’s a herbal chief. He doesn’t try. He simply is,” gushed Alon Tal, an environmentalist and wide variety 45 on Blue and White’s Knesset listing. “Leaders aren’t made; they’re just born. Benny is any such leader.” Tal, who moved to Israel from the US, has been close to the could-be prime minister and his circle of relatives for decades and considered Gantz’s dad and mom his followed grandparents.

“His father changed into a farmer, and he would play the cantorial track in the automobile. They had been very Jewish,” Tal recalled. “The entire family became particularly warm… I become a brand new immigrant, and they completely embraced me.” Years when they met, Gantz coincidentally became Tal’s organization commander inside the army.

To the squaddies in his unit, it becomes “obvious” that he might sooner or later end up the leader of a group of workers, “because he turned into the exceptional officer any of us ever had,” Tal remembered in the latest interview. “You both have an ethical compass, or you don’t. The navy is an area in which you can’t cover it.”

Michael Oren changed into the Israeli ambassador to Washington when Gantz served because the embassy’s army attache had a comparable enjoy. “I first met Benny a decade earlier during reserve duty, a tall, quiet, sincere man — an American might imagine him residing in a log cabin — and told [my wife] Sally that someday he could command the military,” he recalled in his memoirs.

‘My lifestyles had begun before I changed into born.’
Gantz was born in 1959 in Kfar Ahim, a moshav close to Kiryat Malachi, to Holocaust survivors. His late mother Malka, who hailed from Hungary, saved a 12-year-antique lady from a certain demise using pulling her from a pile of bodies in a Nazi awareness camp.

“In many ways, my lifestyles had started before I changed into born,” Gantz stated, closing the month at a convention in Munich. “It commenced inside the second my mom Malka walked out of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. I will always remember those who never came out.”

Gantz, who has three sisters, attended boarding school in the Kfar Hayarok children’s village in imperative Israel. Accusations surfaced last month that, as a teen, he exposed himself to a classmate there. Gantz vehemently rejects the declare, which came just as Blue and White commenced to ascend inside the polls.

In 1977, Gantz joined the Paratroopers Brigade and speedily rose thru the ranks.

“You never felt he acted superior to you,” Dan Emergui, certainly one of Gantz’s radiomen inside the paratroopers, lately advised the Haaretz newspaper. Despite the distinction in rank, Gantz “in no way had to increase his voice. Some commanders difficult orders. He just asked, and people desired to carry out whatever he said.”

Emerge also recalled how his team turned into attacked by Hezbollah in Lebanon. “Benny stored cool, calling in cowl from tanks and helicopters. There were greater senior officials within the ops center. However, they didn’t intrude due to the fact they may hear at the radio that the whole thing become underneath manipulate.”

A few months later, a jeep carrying Emergui and Gantz outdoor of Jerusalem became hit by 4 Molotov cocktails. “We got out and couldn’t see a soul. Benny wouldn’t let us open-hearth — now not even warning pictures. He doesn’t shoot just for the sake of it.”

In 2000, Gantz turned into the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division commander while 19-year-old Druze border protects Madhat Yusuf bled to demise after clashes at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.

According to Israel’s investigation of the event, Yusuf died because Palestinian security forces avoided his scientific evacuation for more than 5 hours. An IDF inquiry into the incident found no fault with the actions of the commanders within the field.

With Gantz’s access into politics 19 years later, proper-wing politicians recalled the incident and accused Gantz of abandoning Yusuf. “Benny Gantz changed into one of those commanders who grew to become his returned on him,” Likud Minister Gilad Erdan charged in advance this yr.

In 2007, Gantz went to Washington to function the embassy’s defense attache.

Lior Weintraub, the embassy’s former leader of the body of workers and spokesperson, said Gantz turned into properly-reputable no longer most effective in the Pentagon. Additionally, inside the management, Congress, and the Jewish community.

“I noticed legislators on Capitol Hill standing in line to greet him and to thank him for his provider. He turned into very a great deal liked,” he recalled.

Gantz became deeply worried about strengthening US-Israeli protection ties, such as efforts to guarantee Washington’s ongoing assist for Jerusalem’s so-known as a qualitative military edge, Weintraub said.

“I attended several conferences and briefings with him coping with the Palestinians in Gaza and with the Iranian nuclear risk, on the State Department and the National Security Council. He did an awesome task,” added Weintraub.

Gantz’s current political opponents seek to paint him as a “weak leftist,” but Weintraub said he by no means noticed something that could assist that declaration.

“There was no room for politics in his work at the embassy,” Weintraub said. “I in no way noticed or heard him do something that had to do with politics. He changed into always centered on his venture and never were given bogged down in political troubles.”

Upon his return from DC, Gantz served for 2 years as deputy leader of staff earlier than retiring from the army, having not been selected for the top process. But after the planned appointment of Yoav Gallant (nowadays a Likud minister and a critic of the Blue and White leader) fell via, Gantz turned into tapped for the submit. After thinking about the offer for some days, he agreed to pop out of retirement.

For some, the truth that Gantz wasn’t the primary choice leader of personnel suggests a weak spot that he’ll carry into politics.

“Benny is an accidental appointment,” a former trendy these days informed Haaretz about Gantz’s advertising to lieutenant widespread, the military’s highest rank. “He wasn’t ruthless and didn’t have a burning choice, and nevertheless were given the process. He’s a pleasing guy and very lucky. However, I can’t see how so one can be enough for him to take on a political killer like Netanyahu.”

Central events of his term as IDF chief were the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in October 2011 — Gantz was not involved in the negotiations that brought about the soldier’s liberation from Hamas captivity in Gaza. However, he became one of the first to include Shalit — and two wars with Hamas, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

Just some years ago, Netanyahu spoke somewhat of Gantz, the army leader.

“He is a skilled commander and an awesome officer. He has all the traits and all the vital revel in to be a first-rate IDF chief of a group of workers,” he declared on February 6, 2011, a few days earlier than the cupboard unanimously accepted Gantz’s appointment.

In February 2015, as Gantz wrapped his almost forty-year navy career, Netanyahu thanked him for his “outstanding provider… such as many things that the public isn’t always aware of.” He also praised Gantz then as “a tremendous, moral, responsible, balanced and thoughtful chief of the workforce.”

Four years later, Netanyahu is singing an exceptional tune, as he denounces his subordinate-became-political opponent as a closet leftist who poses a hazard to Israel’s protection and economy.

Regarding the latter place, Netanyahu can factor in Gantz’s unsuccessful career within the private sector.

After leaving the military, Gantz, who holds a master’s ranges in political technology and countrywide resource management, became the chairman of a Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity organization called Fifth Dimension. In December 2018, after 3 short years, the company went bankrupt, having burned thru hundreds of thousands of bucks from traders. “I can’t consider the Fifth Dimension to be an achievement story,” Gantz admitted the remaining month.

“It was handiest one among eight or nine enterprise sports I had. I’m now not some wealthy person, and I don’t take into account myself a businessman,” he went on. “I advocate we understand that this occurs to 9 out of 10 excessive-tech corporations. So allow’s observe this with the proper angle.”
On security and sensitive subjects, it’s far extremely more robust for the high minister to assault Gantz, due to the fact as an army officer, the latter made no political statements, quietly carrying out whatever the commander-in-chief — who for the final ten years became Netanyahu himself — ordered. Nonetheless, denouncing Gantz’s alleged shortcomings on security became a vital pillar of Likud’s campaign strategy even before Blue and White set out its political platform.

Netanyahu has claimed, as an instance, that Gantz supported the Iran nuclear deal and that he plans to uproot Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The former army chief denies this. However, his real positions on these subjects continue to be hazy. His insistent vagueness and disinclination to make definitive policy announcements led political commentator Mitchell Barak to name Gantz the “Charlie Chaplin candidate, due to the fact he doesn’t actually say whatever.”

Except for 1 interview, certainly, Gantz has now not addressed the clicking because he entered politics.

On Wednesday, Blue and White published its platform, which calls for a “united” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, persisted Israeli control over the Jordan Valley, and maintaining agreement blocs inside the West Bank, together with a willingness to enter negotiations with the Palestinians.

A lengthy speech Gantz delivered in Washington in September 2015 offers additional insights into his worldview. He said the Iran deal might have been better at the time, but he also noticed “the half-full part of the glass” since it turned into to keep Iran up to fifteen years far away from nuclear gun competencies.

He said then that during the light of Israel’s military would possibly, “I refuse to get hysterical in this.”

Addressing the Munich Security Conference last month, however, Gantz referred to Iran as an “evil” regime posing “a grave hazard to the Middle East and global order.”

He introduced that he stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Netanyahu in fighting Tehran’s aggression.

Parts of his brief Munich deal with — a study from a teleprompter and added with what some observers saw as awkward body language, apparently reflecting half-found out strategies from public speaking coaches — bore an uncanny resemblance to Netanyahu’s speech to the United Nations last yr.

On the Palestinian problem, Gantz has long been indistinct. He appears to prefer a -nation answer, although he has in no way explicitly backed Palestinian statehood. His birthday celebration’s manifesto makes no mention of a -kingdom solution, rejects unilateral withdrawals, and vows to undertake official actions on the security front only after keeping a referendum or with a different Knesset majority.

In his 2015 address, Gantz stated of the warfare: “No one goes everywhere and, therefore, all and sundry need to keep on with what’s vital and surrender all their different desires.

“We need to paste to security and give up the goals, as we would like to have them — all governments of Israel have said two-nation solution, so this isn’t always news. And equality is going for the Palestinians. If they want to advantage sovereignty, they need to surrender a number of their dreams as properly.”

Some Israeli settlements “have principal protection importance,” he introduced. He also said that the Jordan Valley remained essential to Israeli protection and recommended staying underneath Israeli military management.

Launching his political career in late January, Gantz vowed to “toughen the agreement blocs” and to preserve Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty.

At the equal time, he pledged to “attempt for peace” and embody opportunities for “regional alternate.” If peace proves impossible to achieve, however, he added, “we can form a new reality,” he said. He has when you consider that refused to complicated.

Gantz’s insistent refusal to face reporters is unsurprising, for the reason that he knows anything he says to the click can and can be used towards him using his political combatants, said Lt.-Col. (res.) Peter Lerner, a former military spokesperson.

“He was always very calculated when taking place record,” recalled Lerner, who has organized several global media appearances for the former chief of body of workers.

Lerner, an admirer, stated that on the subject of his political view, Gantz clearly is what he says he’s — a centrist who cares first and main approximately Israel’s security.

“He believes that we must not stick our heads in the sand and forget about the state of affairs on the floor; however, that we want to paintings tough to better protect the State of Israel. If meaning negotiating with the Palestinians, does that make him a leftist? I assume it makes him extra of a realist,” he stated.

Lerner, who has acknowledged Gantz for some two decades, described his former boss as a peaceful, accumulated, and considerate leader who will advise even from lower-rating colleagues.

“He’s a superb listener, and that makes him two times a higher leader in my opinion than the maximum of the officers I’ve hung out with. It became nice to have someone at this sort of senior rank who you could talk to and who doesn’t already realize the whole lot,” he stated.

These are merely quality personal traits, however, is this enough to steer a country as complicated as Israel?

“Obviously, leading a massive employer in challenging situations is something he has achieved,” Lerner answered. “Is that sufficient to live to tell the tale Israeli politics? I honestly don’t recognize, because Israeli politics is a whole extraordinary battleground.”