The Likud party released a series of campaign spots on Tuesday in which it sought to portray Benny Gantz, the leader of the rival Blue and White party, as mentally unstable.
“Benny Gantz has lost it,” ran the message, referring to a recording broadcast a few days earlier in which Gantz speculated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be happy to see him dead and may have asked the Russians to interfere in the elections.
“His appearances speak for themselves. Gantz is scared and weak,” Likud said. “Apparently Gantz still believes that Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to send killers to assassinate him and send the Russians to hack his phone.”
“A man like this is paranoid and someone who says the last month has been the most difficult in his life will not last even a moment under the pressure that the prime minister faces every day,” the campaign spots said.
In a recording of a conversation, which Channel 13 reported Sunday and said was made recently during a closed door meeting in a limited forum, Gantz can be heard making several apparently unfounded accusations about Netanyahu.
“If (Netanyahu) had a way that I would be harmed, that they would kill me, he would do it,” Gantz says, adding that the upcoming elections had made Netanyahu desperate.
“Would regular Benjamin Netanyahu, who I know, want me harmed? The answer is no. Would Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of elections want me harmed? Unfortunately I would have to say so,” said Gantz, who served as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces under Netanyahu from 2011 to 2015.
Gantz, who is Netanyahu’s main challenger in the upcoming elections, has been on the back foot in recent days over reports that his cellphone was hacked by the Iranians.
The Likud party has tried to use the hack, which Gantz was informed about last year by Israeli security officials, to show he is unfit to lead the country. Gantz has charged that the leak of the breach to the media was politically motivated.
As part of the campaign to show that Gantz was unstable, Likud also showed an edited clip from a recent interview in which Gantz stuttered several times and another clip that repeatedly zooms in on his eyes with an accompanying horror movie soundtrack, apparently trying to convey that he has a crazed look.
“Completely stable,” read the caption.
יציב לחלוטין pic.twitter.com/vsUeToC5kA
— הליכוד (@Likud_Party) March 25, 2019
In the recording, of which Channel 13 played excerpts only, Gantz concedes the Iranians could have been behind the hack, but then immediately pivots to present a different theory, blaming Netanyahu.
“OK, if it’s not the enemy, then who did it? It’s the opponents. If it’s the opponents, how are they doing it? In one of two ways,” Gantz postulates. “One possibility is that they hired private people who carry out these sorts of cyber activities. A second possibility, which suits Bibi — even though I don’t see this as a very high probability — is that he activated the Russians to interfere in the elections,” he says, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.
The Likud party denied these allegations, telling Channel 13 that “Benny Gantz has lost it.”
“After he accused the prime minister of treason against the state [in relation to a German deal to sell submarines to Egypt], he now accused the prime minister of sending people to murder him,” the statement said. “If Benny Gantz is showing signs of advanced paranoia after two weeks of pressure during the election campaign after his phone was hacked, how can he run the country?”
In the recording, Gantz can also be heard taking a swipe at Netanyahu’s legal woes and at his wife Sara’s domineering reputation.
“That man knows he is going to prison, he knows he is in prison no matter what,” Gantz says. “If he finished his term as prime minister he is going to prison. If he doesn’t go to trial, and doesn’t go to prison, he will be with Sara, and so he stays in prison. The only place he is a free man is when he is in his office.”
Netanyahu is to be charged with fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases, and bribery in one of them, unless he can persuade the attorney general to reconsider in a hearing process set for this summer.
This is not the first time that recordings have surfaced from Gantz’s meetings with supporters behind closed doors. Recently he was heard saying that he hadn’t ruled out Netanyahu as a possible coalition partner, contradicting his public statements.