Ex-IDF chief Gantz said set to enter politics, likely with a new party

Opposition Zionist Union and Yesh Atid not expected to succeed in wooing former military chief

Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference, in Jerusalem on November 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference, in Jerusalem on November 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz is planning to set up his own political party rather than joining the opposition Zionist Union or Yesh Atid movements, according to a television news report on Wednesday.

Gantz is generally believed to be looking to enter politics on the center-left ahead of elections set for next year, though he rarely comments publicly on his political views. Reports in June in the Hebrew-language press said Gantz was exploring the option of joining the Zionist Union party as its candidate for prime minister. The opposition party is currently headed by Avi Gabbay.

But according to the Hadashot TV news report, Gantz is now expected to form his own party. As the leader of his own party, even if didn’t fare particularly well, he would be in a stronger position to negotiate a role in the next coalition after elections than as the member of one of the other two parties, the television report said.

Gabbay has said Zionist Union would not partner Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party under any circumstances, while the two ultra-Orthodox parties would not partner with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, so joining either of the two major opposition parties could leave Gantz marginalized when he wants a senior ministerial role, the report said.

It did not cite sources for the speculation on Gantz’s plans.

The report came amid rumors of possible early elections.

Last week, the Yedioth Ahronoth Hebrew daily reported that Netanyahu recently offered to appoint Gantz his foreign minister. Both Netanyahu’s office and sources close to Gantz denied that report.

Gantz’s entry into politics 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.

Polls 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 leadership. Conversely, a July poll in Yedioth found that if he decided instead to launch his own party, he would divide support on the left and all but shatter those chances.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks with Israeli soldiers near the border with the Gaza Strip, on July 26, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

According to the July poll, Gantz would draw some 24 Knesset seats if he ran at the top of the Zionist Union list, 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 a 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 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.

Gantz, 58, who served as the military’s chief of staff from February 2011 until February 2015, commanded the 2014 war in Gaza.

He and the army drew considerable criticism in a state comptroller report published in February 2017, which said it had not adequately prepared to face the threat of Hamas attack tunnels.

In January, Gantz said during a conference in Eilat that it would “take some time” before he entered politics, but indicated that he was in talks with several political parties.

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