Former IDF chief of staff and head of the newly formed Israel Resilience party Benny Gantz will speak at the Munich Security Conference, his office said Friday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled his participation.
Gantz, who was approved to be army chief by Netanyahu’s cabinet in 2011, is seen as the most credible rival to the prime minister and his ruling Likud party in the April 9 election.
Netanyahu, who spent the last three days at a US-led conference in Warsaw, had originally been scheduled to fly to the German city from the Polish capital. But earlier in the week he decided to return to Israel instead.
Since then, Gantz has been quietly in talks with organizers to take part and was heading to Munich Friday night, Channel 13 reported. He is expected to speak on Sunday.
His speech is expected to focus on the Iranian threat and not likely to diverge from the hard-line stance adopted by Netanyahu.
The move is a boost for Gantz, who will be able to showcase his presence on a shared stage with world leaders. Netanyahu has made his strong ties with a range of presidents and prime ministers a cornerstone of his campaign, arguing that no one else is capable of leading Israel on the world stage.
Netanyahu has kept up his busy international schedule during the election campaign, including the visit to the Warsaw summit, although the trip was marked by a series of missteps and controversies, including the leaking by the PMO of video from a closed-door meeting with Arab leaders, which many saw as an election stunt by the Israeli leader.
Gantz has strong security credentials but is short on government and diplomatic experience, although he did serve as military attaché in Washington.
Earlier in the week Netanyahu ruled out the possibility of forming a coalition with Gantz, saying that he wants to rule with a right-wing government.
“I will not form a government with Benny Gantz,” the prime minister said at a meeting with a group of religious journalists. “I will be the one to build the coalition, and it will be a nationalistic Likud government, a right-wing government.”
Gantz’s party responded in a statement, saying: “We will establish a Zionist government of hope and unity that will replace Netanyahu.”
Polls show Netanyahu remaining best placed to form a government even if his chief rivals join forces ahead of April’s elections.