Benny Gantz: Israel’s aspiring prime minister

Veteran British political commentator Andrew Rawnsley could have been writing about Benny Gantz and Naftali Bennett now, when he wrote in 1998 about the wall dividing the official residences of the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer at 10 and 11 Downing Street, London. After Tony Blair he got the top job and not Gordon Brown.

“Stroll Downing Street in the wee hours of the morning and you will hear thumps and low groans coming from the Chancellor of the Exchequer,” Rawnsley wrote in The Guardian. “It’s the sound of Gordon Brown banging his head against the wall at No. 10 and moaning, ‘It should have been me. It should have been me. ‘

The prime minister and defense minister’s offices are side by side on the second floor of the Knesset. Will Bennett be able to hear thumps and groans through the wall from Gantz’s office next Wednesday?

Like Brown back then, Gantz has many reasons for banging his head against the wall.

He signed a bona fide coalition agreement with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after three hotly contested elections failed to yield a clear verdict. He swallowed his pride and accepted the new title of deputy prime minister, on the condition that there be a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office on November 17, 2021.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a meeting of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on October 19, 2021 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL / FLASH90).

That date seemed distant at the time, but Netanyahu told the Knesset chambers that he would honor the rotation “no tricks or tricks.”

Both the tricks and the tricks started later that day, when Netanyahu tried to prevent Gantz from speaking at his first cabinet meeting, and Gantz was never closer to moving into the office next door. Netanyahu started an election preventing the state budget from being passed, and after the race, it was former Defense Minister Bennett, not Gantz, who received the promotion, even though Gantz had won more votes.

To make matters worse, his former No. 2 Yair Lapid, who incessantly mocked Gantz for taking the title of alternate prime minister, took it for himself. By voting last week to pass the budget sitting next to Lapid for 30 hours in the Knesset plenum, Gantz brought his partner-turned-nemesis one step closer to the prime minister job he worked so hard to win.

So how bitter is Gantz about not becoming prime minister on Wednesday as planned?

Sources close to him tried to downplay the damn date that was coming.

Gantz spokesman Amir Koren unconvincingly tried to pretend he didn’t know the meaning of the day.

“It is not a date that is relevant to us,” insisted the spokeswoman for Azul y Blanco, Tzafi Ofir. “I understand why he does it for you, but for us, Netanyahu made his mistake and the date does not matter.”

The deputies in blue and white were more open about their feelings as the rotation date approached. MK Alon Tal, who has been around Gantz for decades, wasn’t even afraid to use the b-word.

“Yes, I’m sure we are all bitter,” he said. “Bibi brazenly broke her promise to Benny Gantz and the Israeli people, depriving the country of the best candidate, the man who should be prime minister. But insisting on this bitterness is not a very constructive response. Then [are we] resentful with Bibi? Absolutely. But this only motivates Benny to make the current coalition successful. “

Another source who closely witnessed what Gantz endured said that Gantz was more upset for the country than for himself because Netanyahu started an election that prevented the rotation.

“Of course it was a hit,” he said. But he was disappointed from day one. As things progressed, the false nature of the association became clearer. Still, no one thought that Bibi would do that with the state budget, which is so essential to the running of the country. The impact factor was not about being misled. It was that someone ducked so low and rolled the dice at something so crucial, just for their own personal gain. “

The source said Gantz never complained or expressed bitterness, not even in private conversations with people he trusts.

“Of course there was some bitterness,” he said. “But he is trying to make a difficult situation work.”

Meanwhile, he insisted that Gantz is satisfied with being defense minister.

“He is happy to be doing something invaluable in an area that he is very familiar with,” he said. “It is a meaningful job, in which it could serve the public.”

Tal said the public should give Gantz credit for the sacrifices he has made to ensure that Israel currently has a stable government.

“Any objective analysis of Israel’s recent history confirms that the current government and all that it represents in terms of national unity and the potential for constructive change would not have happened if Gantz had not made a selfless and courageous decision to join a government. of Netanyahu, “he said. . “There is also little doubt that no Israeli leader has the ability to unify the country and unite the various segments of this divided society like Gantz.

“In my opinion, he is still by far the most qualified and suitable person to serve as Prime Minister. And I think that as time goes on, more and more Israelis will come back to the notion that Gantz represents the best of Israeli values ​​and vision. “

Tal added that Gantz has rejected many offers from Netanyahu to overthrow the current government, form a coalition with the Likud and become prime minister for four years.

“If he had wished, Gantz could serve as prime minister today,” Tal said. “Even today this option appeals. And he still continues to serve the country indefatigably as Defense Minister and as the ‘responsible adult’ of this government. I call that integrity. “

LIKUD OFFICIALS confirmed what Tal said. When asked about regrets at Likud for breaching the Gantz deal, a former minister said “it is not too late yet.”

But another Likud official said it was important to note that the previous government was undermined by people in blue and white for their own personal reasons, starting with then-justice minister Avi Nissenkorn.

“I don’t know if we regret it, but I can say that the fault lies not only with the Likud,” the Likud official said. “Blue and White, under Nissenkorn, broke the coalition agreement over and over again. And there are many people in Blue and White who do not regret that Gantz never became prime minister, because they have realized that it is beyond their means. “

That may be true for some in blue and white. But others, who know Gantz very well, say it is not too late to hope that one day he will become prime minister, as Gordon Brown finally did when Blair stepped down as prime minister.

“It has been intense,” said a source close to the defense minister. “The highs were high and the lows were low. The fact that he is still fighting shows that he is not who people thought he was. Others have disappeared for very understandable reasons. He’s in it for the long haul. “

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