As war fears skyrocket, Netanyahu orders rare security briefing for rival Gantz
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As war fears skyrocket, Netanyahu orders rare security briefing for rival Gantz

Prime minister’s advisers told to update Blue and White head on latest tensions, sparking speculation over significance of move

An Israeli military vehicle patrols on the Israeli-Lebanese border near the village of Ghajar on August 26, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
An Israeli military vehicle patrols on the Israeli-Lebanese border near the village of Ghajar on August 26, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday ordered his top defense aides to brief chief political rival Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party on security developments, an extremely rare move reflecting threats of war on multiple fronts.

The premier’s military secretary Avi Blut and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat were told to update Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The unusual invite by a prime minister to his chief rival to be briefed by his staff members less than a month before national elections prompted widespread speculation over the significance of the move and the seriousness of security threats facing the country.

Tensions have shot up in recent days after Israel carried out airstrikes on Iranian and Iran-backed fighters in Syria to thwart what it said was a plot to fly explosives laden drones into the country. Jerusalem has also been blamed for airstrikes in Lebanon and Iraq, and Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah gave a fiery speech Sunday in which he vowed revenge for the deaths of two of the group’s members.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun and a powerful Iraqi paramilitary force on Monday both said the respective strikes on their countries were a “declaration of war” by Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz watch a military exercise of the army’s Golani Brigade on the Golan Heights, September 11, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Sunday also saw a volley of rockets shot at Israel from Gaza, hiking up tensions on the southern front. In the West Bank, troops have been carrying out a manhunt for a deadly bombing Friday which security officials have assessed may have been the work of an organized terror cell.

Gantz refused to comment on the briefing, with his office issuing a statement saying he doesn’t comment on his security meetings.

The centrist former IDF general is seen as a security hawk whose views mostly dovetail with Netanyahu’s on defense matters.

The prime minister routinely has his staff update the opposition chief on various matters, but despite currently leading the biggest Knesset party besides Likud, Gantz is not officially opposition chief.

Lebanese military intelligence inspects the scene where two drones came down in the vicinity of a Hezbollah media center in the south of the capital Beirut, August 25, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following the April elections, prompting the September 17 vote, meaning there is currently neither coalition nor opposition — just a transitional government.

Several possible explanations were floated by pundits as to why Netanyahu had Gantz briefed despite no legal obligation to do so, and announced the move to the media rather than briefing him behind the scenes.

Israeli pundits surmised the briefing may have been intended to telegraph to  Hezbollah and Iran the prime minister’s willingness to embark on war if need be, even with elections nearing.

Some also saw the move as a political maneuver intended to help Netanyahu at the polls.

AFP and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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