Likud readies campaign questioning ‘leftist’ Gantz’s military record

Popular former IDF chief, seen as only possible threat to a Netanyahu victory on April 9, has so far refused to respond to disparaging claims from Likud ministers

Then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony held in honor of Gantz's replacement, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 16, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony held in honor of Gantz's replacement, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 16, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud party officials are working on gathering information and testimonies from subordinates with the aim of discrediting popular former IDF chief Benny Gantz, who, polls show, is the only candidate with a chance at defeating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the April 9 elections.

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, top Likud officials and campaign planners have begun piecing together a “Gantz file” focused on unearthing embarrassing stories from his 38-year military career.

The file, and Likud’s expected anti-Gantz push planned for late in the campaign, will attempt to pin the purported failure to decisively defeat Hamas in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge on the former army chief.

Gantz formally launched his Israel Resilience party late last month, but has been largely mum on his positions. His party currently fares better than all other parties barring Netanyahu’s Likud in opinion polls, with projections of winning around 14 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Likud is expected to win around 30.

Speculative polls that offer the option of Gantz forming a shared slate with major factions, like the centrist Yesh Atid, show the alliance coming within a few seats of Likud, at 26-27 seats.

Gantz has already faced a series of attacks from Likud politicians since he founded his party last month. The attacks disparaged him as a “closet leftist” and questioned his military bona fides.

On Sunday, Science Minister Ofir Akunis warned in an interview on Army Radio that Gantz had “hidden left-wing views.”

“If Benny Gantz had right-wing views, like [supporting] the complete Land of Israel [i.e., annexation of the West Bank] or opposition to a Palestinian state, he would tell you he’s stridently opposed to withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, lines and the division of Jerusalem. And he would tell you he supports free-market economics,” Akunis said.

Science Minister Ofir Akunis addresses the Knesset on April 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a year-old interview broadcast last week by Hadashot television news, Gantz said some settlements would be part of Israel “forever.”

“He doesn’t reveal his views because then they would be exposed as leftist,” Akunis said.

He added that “materials are being shared around about his wife taking part in events of Machsom Watch,” a left-wing advocacy group that campaigns against Israel’s control over the West Bank, referring to a long-refuted rumor about the former IDF chief’s wife.

Likud’s Culture Minister Miri Regev, who has already charged that Gantz underestimated the threat posed by Hamas during the 2014 war, told reporters on Sunday that “Gantz knows exactly why he’s staying silent. Like that time [in 2014] when he told the cabinet that the tunnels from Gaza aren’t a threat. Really? Anyone who votes Gantz doesn’t know what he’s getting.”

Gantz oversaw an IDF ground incursion into Gaza in that war charged with finding and destroying the entrances to Hamas tunnels.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz attends a farewell ceremony for outgoing Israeli chief of Police Roni Alsheich, in Beit Shemesh, on November 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The comments from Akunis and Regev came a day after Yoav Gallant, a former head of Southern Command who left the Kulanu party last week and joined Likud, said Gantz has been silent since launching his party because he has “nothing to say,” hinting ominously that Gantz could not defend his military record.

“I think he knows why he’s being silent. I also know why he’s being silent and thousands of officers who served under our command know why he’s being silent,” Gallant told an audience at a cultural event in Ness Ziona. “When you have nothing to say, you don’t talk.”

Gantz’s Israel Resilience refused to respond directly to Gallant’s comments, saying Saturday, “The people of Israel need a different discourse, a more dignified and different leadership.”

Gantz was chosen for the position of IDF chief of staff in 2011 after Gallant’s candidacy was rejected.

Initially approved by the government as chief of staff, Gallant’s appointment was subsequently canceled when questions arose over his appropriation of public lands for the construction of his home in the northern village of Amikam. He subsequently left the army and entered politics. He is now seeking a seat with Likud in April’s elections.

Then-minister of housing Yoav Gallant speaks at the 15th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Gantz is generally respected for his time as chief of staff. His term saw the field deployment of the Iron Dome missile defense system, a restructuring and expansion of the IDF’s posture on the Lebanese and Syrian fronts, and the founding of the Depth Corps to increase the army’s ability to operate deep inside enemy territory in wartime.

Attacks over the conduct of the 2014 war may also backfire, as the key strategic decisions in that war were made not by the chief of staff at the time, but by a security cabinet headed by Netanyahu, who was criticized during the fighting by then-Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett and others for failing to launch a broader, more sweeping campaign in Gaza that would oust Hamas from power there.

Similarly, Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman quit his job as defense minister in November 2018, castigating Netanyahu for failing to launch a fierce offensive against Hamas after a two-day escalation of rocket fire into Israel from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Liberman’s departure helped prompt the calling of early elections, since the coalition shrank to just 61 of the 120 members of Knesset when he bolted with his party.

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