A confidant of former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz said Thursday that the popular ex-general had made up his mind to enter Israeli politics and would announce his political party of choice as soon as elections are called.
Gantz’s entry into the political arena could have dramatic repercussions, according to multiple polls over the past few months. Speculation has swirled about Gantz’s political ambitions as he reaches the end of the mandatory three-year “cooling-off” period for senior IDF officers to enter politics. Gantz left the military in 2015.
“People need to hear that people like Gantz are entering politics,” Giora Inbar, a retired IDF brigadier general and close friend of Gantz, told Army Radio on Thursday. “He’s an ethical person who served this country all his life. He has made the decision to enter politics, and will decide exactly where he stands [in terms of party affiliation] as soon as they announce the date of elections.”
Inbar said rumors circulating this week that claimed Gantz had been promised a seat on the Likud Knesset slate were false. On Wednesday, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had recently offered to appoint Gantz his foreign minister.
“According to sources, Netanyahu wants Gantz to join the ranks of Likud so he won’t run against him in the next elections,” the paper reported.
Both Netanyahu’s office and sources close to Gantz denied that report.
Gantz is generally believed to be looking to enter politics on the center-left. Reports first surfaced in June in the Hebrew-language press about him exploring the option of joining the Zionist Union party as its candidate for prime minister.
Polls in recent months have found that Gantz stood the best chance among the current crop of prospective Zionist Union leaders of challenging the three-term incumbent Netanyahu for the premiership. Conversely, a July poll in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily found that if he decided instead to launch his own party, he would divide support on the left and all but shatter those chances.
Inbar hinted that Gantz was more likely to choose the Zionist Union option and used the interview to publicly urge Gantz not to establish a new party.
“It would be a mistake for Benny to establish a new party,” he said. “There are existing platforms yearning for the kind of reinforcement people like him could bring. I think he’d be wise to choose them, and I don’t think it would be a good idea to join those platforms in the top spot. It’s important to stay humble and not jump headfirst into a world we don’t understand so well.”
He added: “Benny has spoken in the past about his fundamental belief” that Israeli power is linked to “its values and its democracy.”
Asked about Gantz’s views on the Palestinian issue, he said, “I think, if I’ve understood correctly, that a regional agreement is the direction Benny has expressed support for more than once. As a human being, Benny’s values of equality and honesty and understanding the other will guide him in choosing his political direction.”
According to the July poll, Gantz would draw some 24 Knesset seats if he ran at the head of Zionist Union, second only to the ruling Likud party at 30. If he founded a new party, it would crush the Zionist Union, taking 14 seats, in third place after Likud’s 29 and Yesh Atid’s 15, while an Avi Gabbay-led Zionist Union would collapse to fourth with 10.
If Gantz sits out the next election, the poll gave Likud 33 seats, Yesh Atid 18, Zionist Union 15, the Arab Joint List 12, Jewish Home 7, United Torah Judaism 7, Kulanu 6, Meretz 6, Yisrael Beytenu 6, Shas 5 and a party led by former Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker Orly Levi-Abekasis the last 5.
Those numbers suggest support for Gantz crosses traditional party lines, as the possibility of a new Gantz-led party appears to siphon about four seats from Likud, five from Zionist Union and three from centrist Yesh Atid.