In one of the first of likely many spats between Likud and Blue and White lawmakers in their new coalition, Defense Minister Benny Gantz cut his Wednesday meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu short after learning of an interview given by Miri Regev in which the Likud transportation minister called Gantz “half-baked” and said he was not ready to take on the role of prime minister.
“I think he is not ready to be prime minister. He is not ready. Let’s see what happens over the next year and a half. We’ll see if he learns from the best and comes ready for the job,” Regev said in an excerpt from an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth that the daily released ahead of its Thursday publishing. The comments drew a rebuke from Netanyahu.
According to the Blue and White-Likud coalition agreement, Gantz will replace Netanyahu as prime minister after 18 months, in November 2021, at which point Regev is slated to become foreign minister.
The outspoken Regev went on to recycle a claim that was frequently used during Likud’s three grueling election campaigns against Gantz’s Blue and White party, saying he should release any compromising recordings he might have in order to demonstrate to the public that he cannot be blackmailed by Iran, which reportedly hacked his phone.
“If there really is such a tape and it exists, you should ask the defense minister, Benny Gantz, if we have anything to worry about,” Regev said.
Shortly after Yedioth published the interview excerpts as well as recordings in which Regev can be heard making them, the Likud party issued a statement implicitly disavowing the remarks while not censuring the minister by name.
עוד לפני שפורסם, כבר הוא מעורר סערה בקואליציה. השרה @regev_miri, מהאנשים הכי קרובים לנתניהו בליכוד, אומרת: ״גנץ לא בשל עדיין להיות ראש ממשלה, הוא צריך לגלות לנו אם האיראנים יכולים לסחוט אותו״. הראיון המלא: מחר במוסף "7 ימים" של ידיעות אחרונות pic.twitter.com/4KYjjL57Lh
— ידיעות אחרונות (@YediotAhronot) May 27, 2020
“The campaign is over and it’s time for unity. It’s time to stop the personal attacks on both sides. The elections are behind us, joint tasks lay ahead of us and we must join hands for the sake of the citizens of Israel,” the Likud statement read.
But moments later, Blue and White officials leaked to reporters that Gantz was livid over the interview, which he learned about in the middle of a meeting with Netanyahu. The defense minister told Netanyahu that Regev must apologize before abruptly leaving the sit-down.
After several Blue and White lawmakers issued statements lambasting the firebrand Likud lawmakers, Regev responded on Twitter with a screenshot that contained the quote in fuller context. Asked whether Gantz is still “half-baked,” as she had said of him during the campaign, Regev responded, “I think that in the coming year and a half, he will be able to learn from the best in the business, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and then he will be more ready for the position.”
“Instead of making unnecessary noise, read my full interview tomorrow,” Regev added in the tweet.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu phoned Regev Wednesday evening to reprimand her for the interview, telling her that the remarks caused “damage” to the new unity government, according to Channel 12.
The network published a response attributed to “Regev’s confidants,” which read, “The minister’s remarks have been taken out of context. She does not understand what the fuss is about. Her intention was not [to offend Gantz]. In her opinion, things will be much clearer when the full interview is published. There is nothing to apologize for, nothing out of the ordinary has been said here.”
In addition to reprimanding Regev, Netanyahu passed along a message to Gantz that her remarks were “unacceptable” to him, the Ynet news site reported.