JERUSALEM — A dramatic headline in Israel’s daily Haaretz declares that, according to recent polls, former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz is the first person in a decade within reach of unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. To begin with, one might think, “who cares?” So an Israeli general with his hands dripping in Palestinian blood will have his backside in the prime minister’s seat instead of Netanyahu. However, it is unlikely that this newcomer to politics will be able to unseat an old political master like Netanyahu.
According to a report in Hebrew on the Israeli Channel 10 website, this is indeed the first time that any contender for the premiership comes close to Netanyahu on the question of suitability to be prime minister. The report states that Gantz has achieved this even as he has yet to give a single political speech. Yet this only raises the suspicion — and this case it is quite a realistic suspicion — that his high ratings come as a result of being an unknown name in Israeli politics, and thus a kind of political Rorschach blot.
Claiming another’s military accomplishments as his own
In his first campaign video, Gantz shows the death and destruction that the IDF brought upon Gaza while under his command. The video is titled, “Parts of Gaza Returned to the Stone Age.” Another video is titled “3.5 Years of Quiet in the South.” Putting aside for a moment the fact that Gantz is taking credit for horrendous war crimes, this as an Israeli politician trying to win the votes of Israeli voters who regard these crimes as achievements. Gantz is bragging about things that he did while he was in uniform and taking orders from his boss, Prime Minister Netanyahu. He is trying to sell these acts of horrifying violence as his own achievements, but they were executed while he was working for Netanyahu and following his directives.
Praising these so-called accomplishments that were achieved under Netanyahu’s leadership, Gantz is, in effect, doing Netanyahu’s work for him. This is not the most politically sound way to kick off a campaign, particularly against an experienced — and, one may add, brilliant — politician. In another campaign ad Gantz is shown saying that, while it is likely that Israeli youth will be asked to fight in 25 years and even in 50 years, we must show that we tried to make peace and that there is no shame in trying to make peace. One photo in the ad shows Netanyahu shaking hands with Yasser Arafat. Again, he shows that Netanyahu tried, and now is dealing with terrorism, certainly a favorable image for Netanyahu and not a brilliant move by Gantz.
Gantz is already talking to potential political partners who may enter into a possible coalition with him. Yair Lapid of “Yesh Atid” party is one such potential partner. He leads the fight against the Haredi Jews by pushing for the conscription of the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. This possible partnership is being described as “center-left,” a categorization that is generally not viewed favorably by the Israeli electorate.
Another possible and perhaps more likely partnership is with another former IDF chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon. This partnership, given that it combines two former IDF chiefs of staff, certainly cannot be called “left,” and so it is a safer bet for Gantz. However, Ya’alon is a risky partner. In 2005 Ya’alon was deposed as IDF chief and then in 2016, he was deposed again from the post of minister of defense. Not a great record as a political partner, and certainly not promising since he completely lacks charisma as a leader.
Generals Who Never Faced an Army
Gantz, much like most Israeli generals today, can claim to have accomplishments all day long; the fact remains, however, that for decades no Israeli general has faced another army. Since 1973, with few exceptions that amount to minor incursions, all of Israel’s military engagements have been against people who do not possess a military force — the Palestinians and the Lebanese people. Israel tries to portray its military assaults on Gaza and Hezbollah as though it is fighting sophisticated armies; however, while Palestinian fighters in Gaza have shown great courage and even heroism when facing the IDF, they have never possessed so much as a tank, not to mention a warplane or any sophisticated weapon. One cannot possibly compare the military capabilities of the IDF to those of Hamas.
The few times when IDF commanders did face a slightly more organized and well equipped military force it was against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Here again, Lebanese fighters displayed discipline and courage in the face of the IDF with its massive firepower, and Israeli ground forces suffered greatly at the hands of Hezbollah. Yet Hezbollah still does not come close to possessing the military capabilities of Israel.
A life lacking accomplishments
All of this demonstrates that Benny Gantz really has no accomplishments to show. What few achievements he does boast are nothing more than the massacres of a civilian population in Gaza, and even those he executed as a soldier following orders from Netanyahu. As a military man, he has no accomplishments, as indeed the IDF has had none and is very likely incapable of fighting a well-trained, well-equipped and well-organized army.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, is not only a political animal but has a long list of enviable achievements. Closing the PLO mission in Washington on the 25th anniversary of Oslo may seem symbolic, but it ensured that there is no official Palestinian representation in the U.S. capital. The U.S. pulled out of the agreement with Iran against the advice of most experts and world leaders with a single exception: Benjamin Netanyahu, who has the ear of President Donald Trump. The U.S. cut financial support for UNRWA, bolstering Israel’s push to undermine the claims of Palestinian refugees. And, of course, the jewel in the crown of his achievements: the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.
There is no Israeli politician or general who can even come close to Netanyahu in terms of experience, achievement, and political prowess. While there are serious corruption charges against him and his wife, it is unlikely that either one of them will be indicted, precisely because of the political implications of such an indictment. The best-case outcome a lightweight politician like Gantz may expect is that after the elections he will once again, if he is lucky, work for Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Feature photo | Benny Gantz gestures during a ceremony in Tel Aviv, Feb. 14, 2011. Oded Balilty | AP
Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”