After defecting from Kulanu, minister Gallant joins Likud

Netanyahu welcomes ex-general to the ruling party, hailing his military career and contribution in security cabinet

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yoav Gallant hold a joint press conference at the Knesset, January 9, 2019, as Gallant joins Netanyahu's Likud party (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yoav Gallant hold a joint press conference at the Knesset, January 9, 2019, as Gallant joins Netanyahu's Likud party (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday that his former pick for IDF chief of staff, Yoav Gallant, will join the Likud party to run on its electoral slate in the upcoming April elections.

Speaking at joint press conference with Gallant, hours after the former Kulanu MK was sworn in an immigration minister, Netanyahu detailed the former general’s military career and said he was “deeply impressed by [Gallant’s] seriousness and professionalism.”

“Your presence in the cabinet helped me and the government make important decisions, some of them very bold, in order to deal with the challenges around us,” Netanyahu said. “First, to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria, something we are doing successfully. as well as other actions that are best not spoken of.

“Your contribution to the Likud party will not be any less great — I welcome you,” he said.

Gallant responded by praising the prime minister for his leadership of the country.

“In recent years I have been closely following the impressive way in which you led the State of Israel in a busy world and in a hostile region,” he said. “I see the calm way you make very complex decisions regarding the security of the State of Israel.

“I am proud to join the Likud party and look forward to playing a central role in security and economic decisions,” Gallant said.

Gallant, who began his military career in the elite Shayetet 13 naval commando unit, is a highly regarded military strategist and was former defense minister Ehud Barak’s choice for IDF chief of staff in 2010.

Initially approved by the government, his appointment was subsequently canceled when questions arose over his appropriation of public lands for the construction of his home in the rural village of Amikam, south of Haifa.

He joined the newly created Kulanu party ahead of the 2015 elections.

His appointment as immigration minister enables Gallant to remain at the cabinet table despite having lost his Knesset seat and the housing portfolio on Monday as part of his exit from Kulanu.

Gallant resigned last week as housing minister and quit Kulanu in order to join the Netanyahu’s ruling Likud. He will be fighting for a position in the party primaries scheduled for February 5 that will determine the Likud slate for the next elections.

Moshe Kahlon, leader of the Kulanu Party (right), and ex-IDF general Yoav Gallant at the party headquarters in Lod on March 16, 2015 (Flash90)

The switch in ministries for Gallant reflects the change in parties: The Housing Ministry is held by Kulanu, while the Absorption Ministry is in Likud’s hands since the withdrawal in November of the Yisrael Beytenu faction from the coalition.

Keeping Gallant at the cabinet table as immigration minister also allows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep him in the security cabinet, the high-level ten-member committee of ministers that makes decisions on war and peace. Gallant, who has 35 years of military experience, is the only ex-general on the committee.

At the Immigration Ministry, Gallant replaces Yariv Levin, who is also the tourism minister and held the post in an acting capacity since Netanyahu left the post last week amid criticism that a prime minister should not simultaneously hold the defense, foreign, health and immigration portfolios.

Gallant will only be in the job for five to six months, holding the post until the April 9 election and for however long afterward it takes the election’s winners to negotiate the next coalition and government — conceivably more than two months.

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