Gantz urges Eisenkot, his successor as IDF chief, to join his party: ‘We’re waiting’

In interview blitz, defense minister unequivocally refuses to serve in government with Netanyahu, says goal is to present viable alternative

Then-defense minister Ehud Barak (center), then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (right),  and Gantz's later successor in the role, Gadi Eisenkot, pictured near the northern border on February 15, 2011. (Defense Ministry/ Flash90/ File)
Then-defense minister Ehud Barak (center), then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (right), and Gantz's later successor in the role, Gadi Eisenkot, pictured near the northern border on February 15, 2011. (Defense Ministry/ Flash90/ File)

Blue and White party leader and Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday called for former army chief Gadi Eisenkot to join his faction for the upcoming elections, in his most overt, public pitch to the prospective politician yet.

Eisenkot, who succeded Gantz as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces in 2015, is considered a potentially influential candidate, with some polls indicating that he could bring additional voters to whichever party he joins.

As a result, Eisenkot has been heavily courted by both Gantz’s joint ticket with Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar — the Blue and White-New Hope faction — and Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Eisenkot’s name was also floated as a potential candidate in Israel’s 2019-2020 elections, but he ultimately decided not to run then.

Speaking to the Walla news site as part of a round of interviews with several of the country’s leading outlets, Gantz made clear his desire for Eisenkot to join his party. He also denied that his efforts to snag the army chief for himself were out of a desire to prevent him from joining and strengthening Yesh Atid.

“I’m not trying to hurt Lapid. I want Gadi as a partner in Blue and White. We’ve known each other for decades. I know exactly what Gadi thinks about every area — in defense, diplomacy, economy and society. I truly hope that he joins politics, and we are waiting,” Gantz said.

In an interview with Channel 13, Gantz said his main focus for the coming elections was to ensure that Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition did not get the 61 seats it needs to form a coalition in the Knesset.

“If Netanyahu doesn’t get 61 seats, the game opens anew. Then everyone will do their calculations,” Gantz said.

“Netanyahu must not return to power. He must not be the prime minister, and he can’t be a minister,” he added.

Defense Minister and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz gives an interview from his office to the Walla news site on July 25, 2022. (Screen capture: Walla)

Gantz was unequivocal about his refusal to again join a government with Netanyahu, even if the Likud leader does indeed get a majority in parliament. Gantz noted that a number of offers had been floated in recent years in which he could have led a coalition with Likud.

“I could have been prime minister and I’m not. I think I’m serious enough about this,” he said.

Though recent polls show Gantz’s combined faction with Sa’ar trailing in the polls, the defense minister said he was nevertheless convinced that his strong ties to the ultra-Orthodox parties could earn him the premiership.

“I believe that I will have the ability to build a wide government… one that does not rest on the extremes,” Gantz said.

For Gantz, these “extremes” may include the Arab Ra’am party, which is part of the current coalition. Gantz said that while he could include Ra’am in his potential coalition, he would not “rely on them” and would only include the party if he already had a 61-seat majority even without them.

Though he insisted it was feasible, Gantz’s path to the Prime Minister’s Office is not a clear one.

While notoriously unreliable, polls have repeatedly shown a Netanyahu-led bloc (Likud, Religious Zionism, Shas, United Torah Judaism) would win between 59 and 61 seats while the parties in the outgoing coalition (Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Labor, Yisrael Beytenu, New Hope and Ra’am) would win around 55 seats. (The predominantly Arab Joint List, which makes up the rest of the 120 seats, is aligned with neither bloc.)

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