Ex-IDF chief says politicians shouldn’t ‘exploit’ wars for political benefit

As government teeters on verge of collapse, Benny Gantz appears to back Netanyahu’s bid to avert early elections

Then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Navy ceremony on September 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Navy ceremony on September 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

Former IDF chief of Staff Benny Gantz on Sunday appeared to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to stave off fresh elections, saying politicians shouldn’t exploit Israel’s defensive wars  for “personal or political benefit.”

“Security is first and foremost a strong army, but it’s not only about a strong army” said Gantz, speaking at an awards ceremony at Ben Gurion University. “Security means a thriving economy, a cohesive society and a government that serves its people.”

Gantz, who many expect to join the race in the next elections, said lawmakers had a duty to act responsibly, which he said meant “not exploiting our justified and necessary wars of defense for personal or political benefit.”

The former IDF chief said at the ceremony that the country needed a “firm and measured policy that will strengthen Israel’s resilience.”

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu denounced calls for snap elections and vowed to push on despite a coalition crisis threatening to bring down his government.

In a televised address, Netanyahu announced he would take on the defense portfolio in the wake of Avigdor Liberman’s departure, and said heading to elections now, amid repeated violent confrontations with terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, was “irresponsible.”

“We are in them midst of a military campaign, and you don’t leave during a campaign, you don’t play with politics,” Netanyahu said, in a stinging critique of Liberman, who resigned last week, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is threatening to follow suit. “The security of the state is above all else,” Netanyahu said.

In a further dig at Jewish Home chairman Bennett, who has demanded the defense minister’s job as a condition for staying in the coalition, Netanyahu said, “There is no place for politics or personal considerations,” when it comes to Israel’s security.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in a televised address to the nation in Tel Aviv on November 18, 2018. Netanyahu said calling snap elections now would be “irresponsible” as he vowed to push on despite a coalition crisis. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP)

The coalition crisis was sparked by Liberman’s resignation as defense minister last week, in response to the ceasefire deal that ended a military flareup between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

The departure of Lieberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party leaves the coalition with a razor-thin two-seat edge over the opposition in the 120-member Knesset. Netanyahu’s other coalition partners say that governing with such a small majority is untenable, and have called for early elections, well ahead of November 2019, when the current government’s term is set to end.

Bennett, the head of the religious-nationalist Jewish Home, has already threatened to bring down the government if he is not appointed defense minister. He and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also of the Jewish Home, are set to deliver a statement to the media Monday.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at a Jewish Home party faction meeting at the Knesset on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Without the Jewish Home, Netanyahu’s coalition would shrink from 61 seats to just 53. The government must have the backing of at least half of the 120-seat Knesset to survive no-confidence motions.

Most opinion polls show Netanyahu easily securing re-election, which would secure him a place in Israeli history as the country’s longest-serving leader. But several factors could trip him up, including a potential corruption indictment that could knock him out of contention.

Gantz, who retired from the IDF in 2015, is widely expected to enter politics on the center-left ahead of November 2019 elections. Though he rarely comments publicly on his political views, Gantz has also been reportedly considering joining the opposition’s Zionist Union party as its candidate for prime minister.

Hadashot TV aired the results of a poll Saturday night showing that 53 percent of Israelis felt the political situation warranted early elections, while 32% felt it did not, with 15% responding that they did not know either way.

The poll was conducted by Midgam Institute for Hadashot TV, and pollster Dr. Mina Tzemach in partnership with iPanel, an online survey platform. Hadashot TV did not say how many people were polled and what the margins of error were.

The survey also showed that should early elections be held, the Likud would win 26 seats, down from the party’s current 30, and that should former Gantz join the center-left Zionist Union, the party would garner 24 seats, up significantly from recent polls which gave it no more than eight seats. Other polls have shown Gantz winning 12 seats or slightly more as head of his own party.

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