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Gantz at the crossroads over challenge to Netanyahu

3 min

Former general Benny Gantz faces a reckoning next week over his revolt against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been gaining ground in the opinion polls almost nine months into the war in Gaza.

Benny Gantz © Mena Today 

Former general Benny Gantz faces a reckoning next week over his revolt against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been gaining ground in the opinion polls almost nine months into the war in Gaza.

On Thursday, Gantz's centrist party proposed a bill to dissolve parliament, days after he said he would quit Netanyahu's wartime unity government unless the prime minister came up with a clear day-after strategy for Gaza.

But with the latest opinion poll showing a noticeable swing towards Netanyahu, who received wide support in Israel after International Criminal Court prosecutors said they had requested an arrest warrant against the prime minister, the way ahead has become more complicated.

The poll for Israel's Channel 12 television published this week showed 36% considered Netanyahu better suited to be prime minister over 30% who favoured Gantz in a two way choice between them. The same poll showed the lead held by Gantz's National Unity Party narrowing, giving it 25 seats in parliament if elections were held now against 21 for Netanyahu's Likud party.

Gantz, a former army commander and defence minister in the previous government has held a clear lead over Netanyahu in the polls for months as the prime minister's image as a security hawk was shattered by the devastating attack on Israel by Hamas-led gunmen on Oct. 7.

He joined a unity government soon after the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7, saying he was putting aside political considerations in the national interest.

But, along with Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Gadi Eisenkot, another centrist former general, he has clashed repeatedly with the religious nationalist members of Netanyahu's government, who have remained adamantly opposed to any political settlement with the Palestinians.

Earlier this month, the frustrations of the generals broke into the open, when first Gallant, then Gantz demanded a clear strategy for what to do in Gaza when the fighting ends. But the demand may have come too late for the increasing number on the left who were unhappy that Gantz's presence in the government was providing cover to Netanyahu.

"In some ways, Gantz has cornered himself because he cannot retreat, he cannot back off from the ultimatum," said Aviv Bushinski, a former communications advisor to Netanyahu, who noted that within an hour of Gantz's statement, Netanyahu had dismissed his demand.

"So he is stuck there but everybody knows that nothing will happen, so why doesn't he exercise the ultimatum?" he said.


Gantz's departure from government would not, on its own, endanger Netanyahu, whose coalition with a clutch of right-wing nationalist religious parties gives him a solid majority in parliament, and elections do not have to be held until 2026.

Whether it triggers a wider shakeup would have to be seen but Israeli media questioned the timing of Gantz's decision and fierce criticism of the government by Eisenkot in a separate speech on Wednesday.

"What's going on? Did you suddenly see a poll showing a dramatic drop in support for your party that woke you up?" wrote Sima Kadmon, a commentator in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's top-selling tabloid newspaper.

Almost nine months into the war in Gaza, Israel has become increasingly isolated internationally as the Palestinian death toll has risen among a 2.3 million population that aid agencies say faces a severe humanitarian crisis.

More than 36,000 Palestinians, including both armed fighters and civilians, have been killed since the start of the Israeli assault, according to figures from Palestinian health authorities. Much of the coastal enclave has been reduced to rubble and most of the population has been displaced.

As well as a ruling from the International Court of Justice in the Hague ordering it to halt its operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, prosecutors from the International Criminal Court are also seeking arrest warrants against both Netanyahu and Gallant.

Increasing numbers of European countries have either recognised a Palestinian state, or are poised to do so, and even Israel's closest ally, the United States, has become increasingly frustrated at the attitude of Netanyahu's government.

Gantz himself, as hawkish an enemy of Hamas as any other Israeli leader, would do little to end that isolation because his policy for conducting the war would differ little from Netanyahu's.

His differences with Netanyahu have centered more on issues such as the possibility of opening a path towards a political settlement with the Palestinians and doing more to ensure Orthodox Jewish Israelis serve in the military, both policies fiercely opposed by Netanyahu's allies on the right.

"I think an Israeli government headed by anybody else would have exactly the same policy in Rafah," said Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States. "Israelis understand that. People outside don't seem to understand that very much."

By James Mackenzie



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