Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz responded Tuesday to the leaking of a recording in which he told close confidants that he would not rule out a unity government with Benjamin Netanyahu, saying in a statement that the situation has changed and that he will not now be willing to form a coalition with the prime minister.
On the night after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on February 28 he intended to indict Netanyahu in three corruption cases, Gantz convened a press conference, in which he announced that “given the circumstances,” his party would not sit with a Netanyahu-led Likud after the election. Blue and White officials clarified at the time that they would not rule out a coalition with Likud, but not if Netanyahu remained party leader.
But in a recording broadcast Monday evening by Channel 13, Gantz appeared to walk back that declaration — at least in a scenario where he, and not Netanyahu, becomes prime minister.
“I chose the words ‘given the circumstances’ [an apparent reference to his February 28 statement] in order not to completely close the door [on a coalition with Likud] and lock it. The door is closed, but not locked,” he told a group of close advisers in the recording, which the report said was made at a meeting sometime in March.
On Tuesday morning, Gantz released a statement saying that “the remarks in the recording were made before the full details of the grave indictment charges against Netanyahu were revealed [in the three corruption cases in which the prime minister is to be prosecuted, pending a hearing], and definitely before it turned out he received NIS 16 million in a round-trip trade on the submarines and lied to the public on serious security matters. (The Gantz recording appeared to have been made after Gantz’s February 28 statement, which itself was issued hours after the attorney general published his charge sheet against Netanyahu.)
“I am saying, not in an anonymous recording but openly and in my voice: I won’t sit with Netanyahu in the government!” he concluded Tuesday.
Gantz, together with other leaders of his Blue and White list, accused Netanyahu on Monday of making millions of ill-gotten shekels in what he dubbed “the greatest security-related corruption case in the history of the State of Israel.”
Gantz called for a state commission of inquiry to probe Netanyahu’s alleged role in the so-called submarine affair, called “Case 3000” by police, which has ensnared several close associates of the prime minister, but not the premier himself, on suspicion they received illicit funds as part of a massive graft scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of naval vessels from Germany.
Speaking at a press conference in Haifa, Gantz said reports that Netanyahu has earned NIS 16 million [$4.5 million] off the deal were “unimaginable and hard to comprehend.”
“I hope they are not true,” said Gantz, but noted that Netanyahu was already facing other graft charges, pending a hearing, in three corruption cases and is “suspected of looking out for himself before the security of Israel.”
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.