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Former IDF chief warns that rise of Ben Gvir could lead to ‘civil war’

Dan Halutz says internal armed conflict in Israel possible if far-right lawmaker ‘tries to implement his horrible ideas’; Eisenkot urges voters to reject ‘those who divide’

Former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, speaks during a conference on July 14, 2016. (Flash90)
Former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, speaks during a conference on July 14, 2016. (Flash90)

Former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz warned that “civil war” may break out if Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir attempts to implement his “horrible” ideas following the upcoming election.

Halutz, who served as military chief between 2005 and 2007, told Democrat TV earlier this week that “the moment [Ben Gvir] tries to implement his horrible ideas, there’ll be a civil war here.”

“We’ll never give up on fundamental rights, this person was disqualified from military service, he has many offenses to his name — I don’t know how he was allowed a handgun,” Halutz added.

Ben Gvir, who the IDF declined to draft due to his far-right activities even as a teenager, has experienced a surge in popularity during the current election cycle, with polls predicting his party will get 13-14 seats and become the third-largest Knesset faction. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who last year said Ben Gvir could be in his coalition but was “not fit” for ministerial office, has recently publicly stated that if he reclaims the premiership, the firebrand lawmaker will be a minister in his government.

Halutz cited a TV interview with an 18-year-old Ben Gvir where the latter dressed up as Baruch Goldstein, the gunman who carried out a massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994, killing 29 Palestinians. Ben Gvir is also infamously known for a video before the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin where he holds the car emblem from Rabin’s Cadillac and declares: “We got to his car, and we’ll get to him, too.”

In recent years, Ben Gvir has claimed that he has evolved and moderated since those days, but Halutz rejected that idea, saying: “He has not and will not change… what we see is what we get.”

The photo of mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein hung in the home of Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir. (Screen capture/Channel 13)

For years, Ben Gvir had a picture of Goldstein hanging on the wall of his Kiryat Arba home, only removing it in 2019 after it became heavily publicized in local media. He also has several criminal convictions to his name, including for incitement to racism and supporting a terror organization.

In response to Halutz’s comments, Ben Gvir told Maariv: “They’re preparing the ground,” seeming to imply that his political adversaries are readying to battle his agenda and undermine his legitimacy following the election.

Another former IDF chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot — who is on the ballot next week — sought to lower the temperature following Halutz’s civil war warning, calling for voters to prioritize unity in Tuesday’s vote.

Referring to Halutz’s comments, Eisenkot, who served as chief of staff from 2015 to 2019, said in an interview on Channel 12 on Friday that “if it was a warning, that’s okay, but I really hope we don’t get there. I think we are far from there. I give credit to the leaders and citizens of Israel who can identify those who are unifying and not those who divide.”

Former IDF chief of staff and Knesset candidate Gadi Eisenkot unveils the National Unity party’s plan for improving Israel’s internal security, October 18, 2022. (Elad Malka)

Eisenkot is running in the third spot in the National Unity party led by another former IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz. The party is predicted to win 11-13 seats. (Israeli opinion polls can often be unreliable, but do influence politicians and voters.)

The National Unity party has been part of Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s broad coalition, and Gantz has said he will not partner with Netanyahu. It has presented itself in this campaign as uniquely capable of forging a unity coalition if it wins sufficient support in November 1’s election.

Gantz’s party pitches itself as mamlachti, often translated as statesmanlike, with an emphasis on promoting a healthy civil discourse and responsible leadership.

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