Stepping on each other’s toes, Bennett, Gantz schedule trips to India 4 days apart

Defense minister accused of ‘childish attempt’ to upstage PM by rescheduling his visit, but sources close to him say Bennett to blame

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speak, during the swearing-in ceremony for President Isaac Herzog, on July 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speak, during the swearing-in ceremony for President Isaac Herzog, on July 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the latest sign of growing tensions between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the latter announced Thursday that he will embark on a planned trip to India on Tuesday, four days before the prime minister is scheduled to arrive in the country.

Bennett is slated to pay an official visit to India next month to commemorate 30 years of full diplomatic relations between the two nations, his office said Saturday.

Gantz is expected to travel with other defense officials and meet with his Indian counterpart, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The announcement of Gantz’s trip caught the Prime Minister’s Office off-guard, according to Haaretz, which cited an Israeli official who said that the Defense Minister was trying to upstage Bennett by traveling ahead of him.

The unnamed official said that due to “Gantz’s childish attempt” to beat Bennett, he shot himself in the leg, because protocol requires Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to meet with his Israeli counterpart before meeting other Israeli officials.

Sources close to the defense minister, however, painted a different picture of the events, claiming that Bennett was the one who tried to outplay Gantz.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) speaks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 2, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

They told Haaretz that Gantz’s trip to India was scheduled for April five months ago, and that after hearing about that trip, Bennett reached out to Modi’s office to schedule a meeting.

After learning about Bennett’s move, Gantz decided to travel a week earlier, the unnamed sources were quoted as saying.

The incident highlighted the breakdown in coordination between the two men’s offices.

The tension between them dates back to the early days of the government, which is seen as divided into two distinct approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz speak in the Knesset, on September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Led by Bennett, the right-wing camp within the government seeks to strengthen the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, while Gantz, a member of the centrist camp, seeks to create more dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and ease security restrictions on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Gantz’s Blue and White party has also expressed frustration that its legislative goals are not being sufficiently advanced, leading to several coalition crises in recent months.

Last month, the Blue and White party announced a boycott of Knesset votes over the coalition’s refusal to advance legislation to enshrine increases to the pensions of career military officers.

The party said that it would not cooperate on government-backed bills due to “the apparent damage to state security and the breach of coalition obligations for a period of months.”

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