Ex-Mossad head Pardo backs Gantz to lead change Israel needs

Gantz and Lapid said discussing alliance, but neither wants to be number two

TV report claims partnership between would-be PMs would only come to fruition if one of their parties collapses in the polls

Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid, left, and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)
Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid, left, and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, right. (Flash90)

Would-be prime ministers Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are holding extensive talks on a possible election alliance, but are stymied by the fact that neither wants to relinquish the top spot in any such partnership, a TV report said Monday.

Hadashot news said the two men have been “intensively” discussing an alliance to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the April 9 elections, talking deep into the night, directly and via intermediaries.

Gantz, the ex-IDF chief who is to formally launch the political campaign of his Israel Resilience party later this month, and Lapid, the head of the centrist Yesh Atid, are the two candidates must likely to seriously challenge Netanyahu’s re-election hopes, surveys indicate, and their prospects could be boosted if they worked together.

But at this stage, neither of the two is prepared to serve as deputy to the other, and therefore the alliance is only likely to cemented if one of their parties starts falling dramatically in the polls, the TV report said. Netanyahu’s Likud is polling at around the 30 seats it holds in the outgoing Knesset; Yesh Atid and Israel Resilience are polling at around 12 seats each. (Yesh Atid has 11 in the outgoing Knesset.)

A survey last week on Israelis’ preference for prime minister gave Netanyahu 41 percent to Gantz’s 38% in a one-on-one scenario, marking the first time in years that any potential rival has come close to Netanyahu’s figures. The same survey gave Netanyahu 45% to Lapid’s 29%.

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz seen with members of the Druze community and activists outside his home in Rosh Ha’ayin, during a protest against the nation-state law, January 14, 2019. (Flash90)

Gantz has not set out his political platform, but is widely expected to aim for the center ground. In brief remarks on Monday, he promised to “fix” the nation-state law on behalf of the Druze community, who argue that its provisions render them second-class citizens even though they serve in the IDF; leading Likud politicians immediately castigated his stance as proof that he is a left-winger.

In an immediate response to the Hadashot report on Gantz-Lapid talks, the Likud issued a statement late Monday declaring that this imminent “union of the left” underlined that it was vital that the Likud emerge as the biggest party on April 9, to prevent a Gantz-and Lapid-led coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, center, and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, right, in southern Israel on July 21, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

The Hadashot report, which was not confirmed, said that while the Gantz-Lapid alliance may not come to fruition, Gantz is also looking to build a partnership with the Gesher party of MK Orly Levy (which is polling at around five seats), as well as with ex-Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party (which is polling below the 3.25% Knesset threshold), and to bring another ex-IDF chief, Gabi Ashkenazi, into his Israel Resilience party.

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo speaks at a conference in memory of his predecessor as head of the spy agency, Meir Dagan, on March 21, 2018. (Tamir Bergig)

Also Monday, the former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, who headed the agency from 2011 to 2016, issued an unstinting endorsement of Gantz, which also amounted to a vote of no confidence in Netanyahu, to whom he reported.

“Benny Gantz is a friend. Benny Gantz is a leader. Benny Gantz can lead the change that this country needs right now,” said Pardo, who has made clear that he is not interested in entering politics.

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