In first joint appearance since firing attempt, Netanyahu and Gallant tout IDF unity

Alongside on-hold defense minister, PM stresses politics must be kept ‘outside the base,’ says he is striving for compromise on overhaul; Gallant says ‘bullets don’t discriminate’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at a pre-Passover event at an air force base on April 3, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at a pre-Passover event at an air force base on April 3, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant seemed to make a show of putting their public beef aside on Monday, appearing together at two back-to-back pre-Passover toasts and calling for a unified Israeli front.

Netanyahu’s office announced last Sunday that the premier had decided to fire Gallant after he called on the government a day earlier to halt its judicial overhaul and warned that opposition to it had “penetrated the IDF and security agencies,” impacting their operational capacity. Despite the announcement, Netanyahu never submitted a formal letter of dismissal, and his office announced Monday that the move was officially delayed.

“Without the IDF and without security forces, there is no State of Israel. In order for the State of Israel to exist, we need to protect one another, we need to preserve our ability to defend ourselves against those who want to kill us,” Netanyahu said at the Mitkan Adam training base outside Modiin on Monday.

“The most important thing is keeping politics outside the base, uniting together to defend Israel, that’s why we are here,” he added.

Gallant delivered a similar message of unity in the face of a common enemy to soldiers: “The enemy’s bullets don’t discriminate between those who come from the city or country, from the mountains or valleys. We’re all the same on the battlefield, so we need to show a unified front against the enemy.”

“This is especially relevant now, when we see attempts to hurt us in new places — where we haven’t seen attacks in past years,” he added, without elaborating.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, at an army ceremony on April 3, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The prime minister’s announcement last Sunday sparked spontaneous mass protests in Tel Aviv and across the country that continued into the early hours of Monday morning.

The protests swelled last Monday to a strike announcement by the Histadrut labor federation, including the grounding of outgoing flights from Ben Gurion Airport, leading Netanyahu to announce a temporary pause to the legislative push that evening, saying he was going to give compromise negotiations a chance.

In its statement Monday, the Prime Minister’s Office said the firing had been put off by security concerns. Reports, however, have indicated that Netanyahu is waiting for Gallant to apologize and profess fealty to the premier.

After skirting around the judicial overhaul in the first ceremony, the two made a more direct reference to their tiff at a similar event held later Monday at the Tel Nof airbase in central Israel.

Netanyahu told troops that “with good will and real compromise, we can get to a broad agreement — that’s what I am striving for,” referring to the controversial overhaul.

He added that Israel’s enemies should know that any internal rift will not affect the country’s willingness to fight, and backed Air Force chief Tomer Bar, who reportedly said Sunday that reservists who refuse to show up for service would be booted from the military. “It’s relevant not only for the air force, but every part of the IDF,” he said.

Gallant did not address the issue directly, but spoke in favor of military discipline.

“When it comes to approving missions, when lives are at risk, there’s no room to waver — what guides us is how we carry out the mission and protect Israeli citizens,” he said. “That’s true for the soldier on the ground or the pilot on an operation, through to the IDF chief, the defense minister, and the prime minister.”

Gallant is prepared to issue an apology to Netanyahu in writing, but only for the timing of his speech, as he stands by his original warning against the overhaul, Channel 12 said in an unsourced report Friday. The defense minister reportedly felt that he had been left with no choice but to make the speech after Netanyahu ignored his concerns for weeks regarding the damage the judicial overhaul was causing the military.

Netanyahu has reportedly faced pressure from several coalition partners, including Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, to keep Gallant as defense minister, and the Biden administration also expressed its concern after the premier’s decision, while not commenting directly on Gallant’s removal. Channel 13 reported that US officials are privately lobbying Netanyahu to keep Gallant on.

Channel 12 said that the premier also wants Gallant to apologize for what Netanyahu feels has been the defense minister’s failure to rein in the thousands of reservists, including many high-level fighter pilots, who threatened to not show up for volunteer active reserve duty if the overhaul passed. Hundreds of pilots had already begun refraining from attending some training sessions, a move that sparked widespread alarm about Israel’s security.

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