Gantz says no split in Blue and White despite internal mole probe

Party leader says hiring agency to sniff out leaks was ‘normal;’ private intel company reportedly plants fake campaign plans among Blue and White leadership to track leakers

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz addresses a demonstration outside the Tel Aviv Museum on May 25, 2019, against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to avoid prosecution in three criminal cases he faces.  (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz addresses a demonstration outside the Tel Aviv Museum on May 25, 2019, against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to avoid prosecution in three criminal cases he faces. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz said Sunday his party’s hiring of a private intelligence agency to track down leaks to the media amounted to “normal steps” to deal with attempts at political espionage and vowed there would be no splits among the parties that make up the centrist alliance.

“There are those in the political system who would want to sabotage our activities, so we’re simply taking very normal steps [to stop them], which do not merit a media circus,” he said at a party gathering Sunday.

“In recent days we’re seeing a lot of chatter about information security procedures inside Blue and White,” he added. “To that I say, there hasn’t been and there won’t be any splits in Blue and White between its constituent parts, all of whom are represented here.”

Blue and White was formed ahead of the April elections by a union of Gantz’s Israel Resilience, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party.

Gantz spoke at a meeting of Blue and White’s “green caucus” on environmental issues, which took place Sunday at the Land of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.

His comments on averting a split in the party came the same day as Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language news site, reported that top officials in Yesh Atid  concocted a plan last month to break off from the Blue and White electoral alliance and instead run with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu on a secularist slate, according to sources.

According to polls commissioned by party officials, a Yesh Atid-Yisrael Beytenu joint list would pick up 26-27 seats in the elections, more than the two would receive separately. Sources close to Lapid said Liberman was aware of the idea and did not reject it outright.

It was Lapid himself, however, who ultimately scrapped the plan, the sources said.

“I signed an agreement with [Blue and White leaders] Benny Gantz and [Moshe] Bogie Ya’alon and I can’t violate it. This will also look really bad in the eyes of the public,” the sources quoted Lapid saying.

It was the latest in a series of reports on discord in the party. Gantz’s comments on the internal probe referred to a Friday report in the Ynet news site that the party had hired CGI Group, an Israeli firm specializing in business intelligence, to sniff out believed moles in the party’s top ranks, after leaked audio recordings of Gantz reached the press in the run-up to the April election.

Leaders of the Blue and White party, left to right, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon at a press conference at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 10, 2019, a day after the elections. (Flash90)

Blue and White had launched an internal probe in March, but it did not identify a culprit.

In one of the recordings, Gantz could be heard saying he did not completely rule out joining forces with Benjamin Netanyahu, despite public declarations he would not sit in a government with the prime minister due to corruption allegations against him.

In the same recording, Gantz was also heard saying he was willing to make significant concessions to ultra-Orthodox parties to get them to join a coalition he would head.

The second recording had Gantz saying that on the eve of elections, Netanyahu would not mind if he were to die.

CGI’s president is Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet security service and ex-minister from the Yesh Atid party, one of three factions that makes up Blue and White.

Yaakov Peri (left) and Yair Lapid at the Knesset (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to the Friday report, CGI planted a fake document describing a Blue and White plan to build an “army” of online talkbackers. It distributed the plan with slight alterations in each copy to a broad groups of party leaders and prominent activists — the individuals who might have been in the room when Gantz was recorded.

The plan, titled “Blue and White’s talkback army,” was soon leaked to the press, and the culprits — more than one version was leaked — were soon identified by the documents’ unique alterations.

Last month, Channel 12 news reported that Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich was caught red-handed by the party leaking information to the media. It’s not clear if that report stems from the CGI Group effort or the internal party probe.

Yankelevich, who is considered close to Gantz, failed a polygraph test when questioned over the leaks, according to the network.

It was also not clear what information Yankelevich reportedly leaked.

Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich attends a Knesset committee meeting on August 5, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While CGI Group would not comment on the report, Blue and White said specialists were helping it with information security, without specifying whether it had contracted the company.

“Blue and White is determined to replace the Netanyahu government and is aware that there are political elements trying to sabotage that effort,” it was quoted saying in response to the Friday report.

Gantz has also contended with leaked reports to the media that said his cellphone was hacked by the Iranians.

Netanyahu’s Likud party tried to use the hack, which Gantz was informed about last year by Israeli security officials, to show he is unfit to lead the country. Gantz charged that the leak of the breach was politically motivated.

Blue and White, which was formed earlier this year, finished second to Netanyahu’s Likud in April elections.

It is currently polling neck-and-neck with the ruling party ahead of the September 17 vote, which Netanyahu initiated after failing to form a government after elections in April.

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