Former IDF chief Eisenkot hints he may enter politics; denies he met with Lapid

Retired army leader in interview does not rule out entering political arena, says he wants ‘to make a difference again’

Gadi Eisenkot and Benny Gantz are seen at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, February 16, 2015, as the former prepared to take over from the latter as IDF chief of staff. Will the two former generals now become political rivals? (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Gadi Eisenkot and Benny Gantz are seen at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, February 16, 2015, as the former prepared to take over from the latter as IDF chief of staff. Will the two former generals now become political rivals? (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot hinted he may enter politics in an interview published Friday.

A separate Friday report from Channel 12 said that Eisenkot had met with Yesh Atid-Telem chairman and new opposition leader Yair Lapid to discuss a joint election run. But Eisenkot denied that the meeting had taken place.

In an interview with Israel Hayom, his first lengthy interview since leaving the military, Eisenkot did not rule out the political arena when asked about it, and said that he wanted “to make a difference again.”

“After a year and a half that I’ve been living in a kind of comfort zone, because it’s very comfortable for my personal life, I want to return to influence,” he said in the interview, which Israel Hayom published in full Friday, and released excerpts earlier this week.

“It’s possible to influence in the public market, by making value, or maybe in another way,” Eisenkot said.

When asked about politics, Eisenkot said he “looked at” his predecessors who entered politics, including Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, also of Blue and White, and Telem chairman Moshe Ya’alon, who is now in the opposition.

Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid gives a statement to the press on April 21, 2020. (Elad Guttman/Yesh Atid-Telem)

“I was a military adviser for two prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, and I stood at their sides for 12 to 16 hours a day. I saw up close that influence is done via leadership and from inside the system,” Eisenkot said. “I think that military people have traits that may be less appropriate for politics, but it’s important that we keep them — practicality, statesmanship and personal example.”

“I look at what’s going on here, and I want to make a better country and have influence, and wake up with fire in my eyes. What does that mean? Wait a little longer,” he said.

Eisenkot, who until now has denied political ambitions, entered the top IDF position in February 2015, taking over from now-Defense Minister and alternate prime minister Gantz.

The Channel 12 report claimed Lapid offered Eisenkot the number two spot in the party and discussed running together in the next election. The report did not say when the meeting took place.

IDF chiefs of staff are required to complete a three year cooling off period before being allowed to enter the political arena. Even though Eisenkot only left service in January 2019, three elections have since taken place and he is thus eligible to run no matter when the next election is held, the report said.

Eisenkot denied meeting with Lapid, telling Channel 12 that “contrary to publications there had been no meeting with MK Yair Lapid in recent months” and that “a meeting that did not take place could not have discussed political matters.” Lapid refused to comment.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (R) and party MKs Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi at a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on January 8, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Just over a year ago, Lapid teamed up with Gantz, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi to form the Blue and White party. The four of them led the centrist alliance through three elections, but failed to gain the support necessary to form a Blue and White-led coalition.

After the most recent election in March, the party split over whether or not to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a unity government. Gantz and Ashkenazi argued that Israelis could not afford a fourth election against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and that a unity government with the Likud leader was the only viable option.

Lapid and Ya’alon — who both had served as ministers under Netanyahu and campaigned on the assertion that he cannot be trusted — argued that they had promised voters not to sit under a premier under criminal indictment and that other options were still on the table to prevent a fourth election other than a Likud-Blue and White unity government, options that Gantz had not entertained before announcing his intention to team up with Netanyahu.

As a result, the party broke up, with Lapid and Ya’alon taking most of their 16-MK Yesh Atid-Telem alliance into the opposition and Benny Gantz bringing the 15 MKs from his Israel Resilience party into the government, while keeping the Blue and White brand.

Lapid will lead a diverse opposition made up of his centrist Yesh Atid party and its right-leaning Telem flank, the secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, the far-right national religious Yamina alliance, the left-wing Meretz party and the majority-Arab Joint List.

read more: