Gantz’s misguided departure: Gallant won’t follow him, and Netanyahu couldn’t care less

The National Unity leader was a vital presence in the war cabinet, and had no good reason to leave now; he’s just empowered the far-right, with devastating potential consequences

Shalom Yerushalmi

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

L-R Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Minister Benny Gantz attend a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
L-R Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Minister Benny Gantz attend a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In the course of his unconvincing departure speech on Sunday, Benny Gantz attempted to begin the work of dismantling the government he was leaving behind.

Like Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, Gantz apparently believes that by working via a constructive vote of no confidence or by mustering a Knesset majority, he can engineer early elections, and he issued a direct plea to a first potential candidate to cross the lines.

“Yoav, you are a determined and courageous patriot,” Gantz commended Defense Minister Gallant, his erstwhile war cabinet colleague. “I learned to appreciate you even more in recent months. Do the right thing.”

The “right thing,” according to Gantz, would be for Gallant to leave the Likud party and help bring down the government from the outside. But that’s not going to happen.

Gallant thinks exactly what Gantz does of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But he won’t defect from Likud.

In recent weeks, Gallant’s position within the party has actually been strengthening, and he is becoming the unofficial leader of the non-Netanyahu camp. This is reflected in internal polls, where he’s been coming in toward the bottom of the party’s top 10.

So Gallant will rebuff Gantz’s entreaties. Indeed, he’s probably angry with Gantz and National Unity No. 2 Gadi Eisenkot for walking out on him.

The main question after Gantz’s mid-war departure is what he’s going to do now. Senior people in National Unity are promising to serve as a responsible opposition, in the Knesset and outside it.

“We’re not Yair Golan,” one source close to Gantz told The Times of Israel, referencing the outspoken new Labor Party leader. “That’s not our style. We’ll be a statesmanlike and fighting opposition, and we will demand elections,” said the Gantz confidant.

“We had no choice but to leave,” he added. “In the short term, not a lot is going to happen, but in the long term, this is our only way to change the government. At the strategic level, nothing has happened. Nothing is moving [in government]… There’s only politics. There’s also no trust between the sides.

“They say we’re abandoning everything to the hands of [far-right leaders] Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir? Well, Netanyahu capitulates to them even as things stand now.”

Gantz is also hoping that demonstrations against the government will grow in the wake of his move and the grave accusations he leveled at the government. But Netanyahu is unfazed. He has other plans. What he’s been doing thus far, he’ll do even more from now on.

Netanyahu will entrench his coalition against the political dangers it faces from outside, because that’s what most concerns him. His weak call to Gantz to reconsider the departure underlined where his priorities lie.

“If Netanyahu had really wanted us to stay, he would have acted differently and not merely posted a tweet,” said the Gantz confidant. “If he had invested in us 10% of the effort that he’s been making with the ultra-Orthodox regarding the military conscription law, things would be different. We’re of no interest to him. Only his bloc matters to him.”

Gantz and Eisenkot had an excellent reason to enter the government immediately after October 7. Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi were pushing for an attack on Hezbollah, against the will of US President Joe Biden and Netanyahu. The National Unity ministers’ entry into the war cabinet put a halt to such plans at the 11th hour.

Their presence was vital in many instances in recent months as well. In truth, Gantz does not have a good enough reason for departing in the middle of the war, especially ahead of what could be a massive, unprecedented operation in Lebanon.

Gantz and his party’s departure from the government also sets back a hostage deal. Ben Gvir will now take control of this, and every threat he issues against Netanyahu will be more substantial and give him still greater influence.

Ben Gvir was already demanding on Sunday to be appointed to the war cabinet in Gantz’s stead. But Netanyahu would likely rather dismantle that forum altogether than sit there with Ben Gvir and Smotrich and run this difficult war together with them.

If there’s no hostage deal, of course, then there’s also no ceasefire in Lebanon, no breakthrough with the Saudis, no moderate alliance against Iran, no end to the war — exactly as Ben Gvir wants. And since the war will go on, there will be no state commission of inquiry into the failures that enabled October 7, exactly as Netanyahu wants.

Post-Gantz, in other words, a full right-wing government, controlled by the messianists, is taking the reins and marching Israel into the unknown — some would say, into the abyss.

Translated from the original on The Times of Israel’s Hebrew site Zman Yisrael.

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