Gantz heads to India after flight delayed over opposition refusal to offset his vote

Unclear how issue resolved, after Likud vowed to not have lawmakers refrain from voting in Knesset during defense minister’s trip; he is slated to meet Modi on Thursday

Defense Minister Benny Gantz leads a Blue and White faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz leads a Blue and White faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz was to travel to India on Wednesday night, his office said, after a flight earlier in the day was delayed due to opposition lawmakers refusing to offset his absence during votes in the Knesset.

Offsetting votes is a common Knesset practice, whereby a coalition and an opposition MK cancel out their votes, as a courtesy, by an agreed-upon mutual absence or abstention. Hours before the 3 p.m. scheduled flight, a Likud party source confirmed that the opposition would “absolutely” refuse to offset Gantz’s vote.

It was not clear how the issue was solved, but Gantz’s office said the trip would go ahead and the defense minister would fly out on Wednesday night.

During the trip, marking 30 years of security and diplomatic relations between the countries, Gantz is slated to meet with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday, according to a schedule released by his office.

Joining Gantz is Yair Kulas, the head of the Defense Ministry’s weapons exports department; Dror Shalom, who heads the ministry’s Political-Military Bureau; and Yaki Dolef, Gantz’s military secretary.

The trip was initially meant to take place in late March, but Gantz postponed it amid a series of deadly terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listens to a speaker during the opening ceremony of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland on November 1, 2021. (Jeff J. Mitchell / POOL / AFP)

The move by opposition lawmakers came after Likud and its right-wing religious allies said Monday that they would not support any upcoming coalition legislation, reaffirming that their top priority was toppling the ailing government.

Since losing its majority in early April and weathering several temporary defections in the ensuing two months, the coalition has struggled to gain a Knesset majority to pass its legislative agenda. This has become especially complicated with laws relating to security, which the Islamist Ra’am party has found politically difficult to support.

Lacking a majority, the coalition has sought to rely on opposition support, often given in the form of vote abstention.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at his Likud party’s weekly Knesset faction meeting, May 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel has sought to tighten defense ties with New Delhi in recent years, especially in the fields of air and missile defense.

India is one of the largest customers of Israeli weapons systems, purchasing billions of dollars worth of equipment in recent years and embarking on several joint projects with Israeli companies.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also scheduled a trip to India marking 30 years of full diplomatic relations back in March, but postponed it after contracting COVID-19. He has yet to announce a new date.

Though New Delhi recognized Israel in 1950, ties were long frosty between the two nations, owing largely to India’s large Muslim population and its leadership role in the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement.

Full diplomatic relations were established in 1992.

Under the leadership of former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, ties blossomed between India and Israel, culminating in the late prime minister Ariel Sharon’s 2003 visit to the country, the first by an Israeli premier.

Defense, economic and diplomatic bilateral ties continued to grow in recent years, and Narendra Modi — like Vajpayee, a member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party — became the first Indian premier to visit Israel in 2017.

During a trip to Israel last year, where he extended the invitation to Bennett to visit, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar lauded the business relationship between his country and Israel, saying at a meeting with CEOs and government officials that India regards Israel “in many ways as perhaps our most trusted and innovative partner.”

Most Popular
read more: