Former IDF chiefs Eisenkot and Ya’alon said weighing joint election run

Internal polling reportedly shows new centrist party led by former generals would have best chance at siphoning voters off right-wing bloc

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (left), and then-Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot when Eisenkot learned he had won the appointment to head the Israel Defense Forces, November 27, 2014. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (left), and then-Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot when Eisenkot learned he had won the appointment to head the Israel Defense Forces, November 27, 2014. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)

Former IDF chiefs of staff Gadi Eisenkot and Moshe Ya’alon are considering running together in a new centrist political party if fresh elections are finalized in the coming weeks, according to a Thursday report.

The Ynet news site said the former military leaders have seen polling showing such an alliance could draw votes from parties on the right and diminish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chance of leading another government.

Eisenkot has hinted he may enter politics since leaving the military last January, but hasn’t said whether he’ll throw his hat in the ring as the coalition teeters on the edge of collapse.

The report said a group of “well-known people who have been involved in strategic consulting and have been in the political arena for many years” ordered a number of polls over the past several months to examine which leaders would be most likely to shake up the race for the Knesset.

It said that Professor Camil Fuchs, one of Israel’s most well-known pollsters, confirmed he had been commissioned to carry out three separate sets of polls checking a number of different possibilities, and that according to the results, an Eisenkot-Ya’alon partnership would be the most successful in weakening the right-wing.

In the most recent set of polls, which he carried out in the past few days, Fuchs said the results showed the partnership could muster 16 seats and reduce the right-wing bloc from 65 — predicted if elections were held today — to 62. Additionally, the findings showed “significant potential” for the party to grow its support further once an announcement on its formation was made.

Moshe Ya’alon has a goodbye talk with then-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, on May 22, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

A report prepared by the group of strategic consultants was said to conclude that, “Even before the declaration of a joint framework, the party led by Ya’alon and Eisenkot transfers seats from bloc to bloc,” and that it has the “electoral feasibility to weaken the right and position itself as the second-largest party outside the right-wing bloc.”

According to the Ynet report, the group of strategic consultants have shared their findings with Ya’alon and Eisenkot over the past several months and both men have accepted the union in principle, if elections are called.

The report came a day after the coalition’s Blue and White helped pass a bill in a preliminary reading to dissolve the Knesset and call early elections, heralding the likely end of the power-sharing deal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed with Defense Minister Benny Gantz some six months ago.

The move set the stage for the fourth round of national elections in under two years, though it must still move through committee and pass more votes, amid speculation that the sides may attempt to work out a deal before then.

Ya’alon, who previously served as defense minister under Netanyahu, left the Likud party in 2016. Ahead of the April 2019 elections he formed Telem, which joined with Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid to create the Blue and White party, which ran in all three of the 2019-2020 elections. After the March 2020 election, when Gantz joined the government, Ya’alon opted to remain in the opposition as part of a joint Yesh Atid-Telem faction.

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, is interviewed by Amos Yadlin at the Institute for National Security Studies annual conference in Tel Aviv, on January 27, 2019. (INSS)

Ya’alon told Ynet in response to the report that “Eisenkot is an important and central partner in replacing the government.”

Ya’alon and Lapid are not expected to run on a joint slate, regardless of Eizenkot’s potential entry to the political fray, Channel 13 reported.

According to a Wednesday poll by the channel, if Eisenkot were to form a party, it would win 15 Knesset seats if elections were held today.

The channel said its imagined Eisenkot-led party would also include former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who left politics before the 2019 elections, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who is planning a Knesset run.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attends the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, on February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

According to a television report last month, Eisenkot is planning a joint political bid with Huldai, but they haven’t decided who will head the slate.

Eisenkot, who was IDF chief of staff from 2015 to 2019 and who currently works for a number of think tanks, denied the report of the joint run, as did Huldai.

In September, Eisenkot criticized the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, declaring the effort a failure and saying the cabinet had lost the public’s trust. He also appeared to denounce Netanyahu’s ongoing campaign of criticism against the police and state prosecution following the premier’s indictment on corruption charges.

Likud and Blue and White have feuded almost since the inception of their power-sharing coalition in May, but ties between them hit a low in recent weeks as a December 23 budget deadline nears. Gantz has accused Netanyahu of refusing to pass the 2020 and 2021 state budgets in one shot — as per the coalition agreement — in an attempt to prevent Gantz from becoming prime minister in November 2021, also as per the coalition agreement.

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