Ex-IDF chief Gantz unveils new political party ahead of April elections

Ex-IDF chief Gantz unveils new political party ahead of April elections

Former chief of staff enters politics, calls his faction ‘Israel Resilience Party,’ amid reports he will team up with ex-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

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)

Marking his official, long-anticipated entry into Israeli politics, former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz registered his new political party on Thursday, in a move that confirms his plans to run in the Knesset elections set for April 2019.

In the first media statement put out on behalf of Gantz, his campaign team said the party’s official Hebrew name would be Hosen Leyisrael, which translates as “resilience for Israel.” A spokesperson for the party said it would be known in English as the Israel Resilience Party.

The party seeks the “continued development and strengthening of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state according to the Zionist vision as it is expressed in the Declaration of Independence, while establishing and changing national priorities in the fields of education, development of national infrastructure, agriculture, rule of law and internal security, peace and security,” according to its registration form.

Gantz has emerged as a dark horse candidate as the election campaign kicks off, with polls indicating that the center-left Zionist Union and the centrist Yesh Atid party could each only present a realistic challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party if Gantz were to join their ranks.

On Wednesday, as the Knesset officially dispersed and set elections for April 9, it was reported that Gantz had been holding talks with Moshe Ya’alon, also once the army’s top officer and a former defense minister, with a view to forming a new centrist political alliance in the elections.

The talks were said to be at an “advanced stage” and envision both men as the leaders of their own separate parties that would combine to run in a joint slate for the Knesset, Hadashot television news reported. Gantz would supposedly lead the faction and the rest of the spots on the list would be filled by in equal measure by candidates from the two parties.

According to the TV report, Gantz is not interested in cooperating with MK Yair Lapid or his Yesh Atid party.

Yitshak Kreiss (Courtesy)

Gantz intends to bring into his party the director of the Sheba Medical Center, Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, a former IDF chief medical officer, Channel 10 news said Wednesday. Also named as potential Gantz party leaders were educator and social activist Chilli Tropper and Michael Biton, the former mayor of the Negev town of Yeruham.

Speaking to Hadashot news on Wednesday, meanwhile, Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay emphatically denied media reports the previous day that he had offered Gantz the top slot in his faction, and vowed to remain at its helm. Asked three times whether he had offered to step down in Gantz’s favor, Gabbay replied with a firm “no” each time.

Gabbay heads the Labor Party, which along with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua makes up the Zionist Union faction.

Then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, left, seen with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, April 11, 2013. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/Flash90)

Ya’alon on Tuesday announced that he intends to set up his own new party, while former prime minister Ehud Barak — also a previous commander of the IDF — said Monday he may resurrect his political career if a center-left political bloc was formed to challenge the premier.

A poll published Tuesday found Likud as the top vote-getter among all parties, with a theoretical party led by Lapid and Gantz seen as the only one managing to pose a challenge to Netanyahu’s plans for a fourth straight term.

If Gantz heads his own party, it would finish second among all parties with 14 seats, less than half the Likud’s projected total of 31, the poll found. Yesh Atid would finish behind Gantz’s party with 12 seats.

But if Gantz were to join a Lapid-led Yesh Atid, the opposition party would win 26 seats, according to the poll published by the Walla news site, five behind Likud at 31.

Speculation over Gantz’s political future has swirled this year with the expiration of his legally required “cooling off” period, under which former top security officials must wait three years after retiring before entering politics.

Head of the Zionist Union faction Avi Gabbay speaks at the Globes business newspaper conference, in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz, 59, left the military in 2015 after a four-year stint as head of the Israel Defense Forces that saw him command the 2014 Gaza war.

Ya’alon, a hawkish former IDF chief of staff and former Likud member, has vowed to challenge Netanyahu since he was ousted from the Defense Ministry in 2016 by the prime minister, to be replaced by Avigdor Liberman. He quit the ruling Likud party and the Knesset shortly thereafter, and has since frequently criticized Netanyahu and indicated he would return to politics to run against him.

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