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Gantz to likely successor: You’ll be 2nd-class minister, tasked with dismantling IDF

Outgoing defense chief says his replacement will oversee bifurcation of ministry, with coalition deals handing departments to far-right parties; Likud hits back: ‘A lie’

Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting of his National Unity party, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 5, 2022. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting of his National Unity party, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 5, 2022. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday warned that his likely successor will have to actively guard against military powers being peeled off and handed out to far-right members of the prospective coalition.

Netanyahu inked a coalition deal with Religious Zionism that grants it extensive influence over Israeli civil activities in the West Bank, after previously agreeing to shift control over Border Police operating there to extremist Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir.

MK Yoav Gallant, a retired general in Netanyahu’s Likud party, is expected to be the next defense minister.

“I would like to say to my replacement, whoever it may be: If you take the position as it is presented to you, your task will be to become the contractor for the dismantling of the security apparatus and the IDF,” Gantz said at his National Unity party’s faction meeting.

“On your watch, [responsibility for] use of force will be taken away from the [military] chief of staff and handed to Ben Gvir. On your watch, the people’s army will disintegrate,” he added. “You will find yourself carrying this mark of Cain, and will be forced to bear responsibility for the security chaos. You will be a second-class defense minister.”

Gantz charged that Religious Zionism chief Bezalel Smotrich will appoint the heads of West Bank civil authority apparatuses “according to his perception of the size of their kippa and the fervor of their faith — as I heard him say on the eve of the elections.”

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir (R) and Religious Zionism chief Bezalel Smotrich at a campaign event in the southern city of Sderot, October 26, 2022. (Flash90)

There was no direct response from Gallant to Gantz, while Likud released a statement saying it was “a lie” that the Defense Ministry would be “dismantled.”

Under Likud’s agreement with Religious Zionism, Smotrich’s party will receive the role of a minister within the Defense Ministry who will oversee construction in the West Bank’s Area C, the 60 percent of the territory where Israel has civil and military responsibility and where all Jewish settlements are located.

That minister will be responsible for Jewish settlement and Palestinian construction, as well as demolition of illegal construction. Smotrich has pushed to demolish unauthorized Palestinian homes, as well as to legalize wildcat Israeli outposts.

The minister will also have the authority to appoint the heads of the powerful Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and the Civil Administration, responsible for the government’s civil policy within the West Bank — in coordination with the prime minister.

“The Civil Administration is less than a thousandth of a percent of the Defense Ministry, and it will remain in the Defense Ministry,” Likud said in its statement Monday.

In Likud’s deal with Otzma Yehudit, Ben Gvir is set to head a souped-up public security ministry that will be retitled the National Security Ministry. He will receive additional authority including over the West Bank’s Border Police, which currently operates under the Israel Defense Forces.

His expanded powers and addition of several smaller enforcement units to his ministry have drawn criticism from Gantz, who accuses Ben Gvir of building a private militia.

Ben Gvir is also pushing for legislation to give security forces personnel immunity from prosecution and to loosen their open-fire rules, though on Monday he accused Likud of “wavering” on the matter.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yoav Gallant hold a joint press conference at the Knesset, January 9, 2019, as Gallant joins Netanyahu’s Likud party (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit was the first of five factions allied with Likud to sign a partial agreement with Netanyahu’s party. Two ultra-Orthodox parties are still holding out, as Netanyahu approaches his December 11 deadline to form a government (though he can ask for a two-week extension and is expected to do so).

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