Israel’s Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz has shown remarkable naiveté and disturbing short-sightedness as he has stumbled from one strategic miscalculation to another since he became active in the rough-and-tumble world of Israeli politics. Although universally respected for his courage and commitment while serving as IDF chief of staff from 2011 to 2015, Gantz has failed to distinguish himself as a politician. Indeed, in the eyes of many, Gantz has been deftly played for a sucker by the ever-resourceful prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The beginning of Gantz’s end came some seven months ago, when Gantz as opposition leader — who repeatedly promised never to join forces with Netanyahu — chose to break with most of his Blue and White Party and joined an “emergency unity government” with Netanyahu. Gantz argued that the move was necessary so that the country could focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, rather than seeking to unlock a recurring political stalemate. In exchange, Gantz was appointed as alternate prime minister and minister of defense, and was promised that he would take over as prime minister from Netanyahu after 18 months.
Last week, less than halfway into the rotation deal, Gantz announced that his party would support a bill to dissolve the Knesset (and the government he is a member of). That move makes it likely that Israel will head to its fourth election in two years. And while current projections have Netanyahu’s Likud and associated right and religious parties winning a clear majority of Knesset seats in that contest, the election will also mark the political demise of Gantz.
Gantz claims that he knew what he was getting into in his pact with Netanyahu. But we’re not buying what Gantz is selling. Gantz’s political rise was premised on him not being Netanyahu. And his campaigns repeatedly hammered on Netanyahu’s corruption charges and criticized Netanyahu’s focused manipulations to stay in power. If Gantz really had “no illusions about Netanyahu,” as he now claims, he either didn’t believe any of the things he was saying about the man, or he made one of the most serious political blunders in Israel’s 72-year history.
More importantly, this is a terrible time for political instability in Israel.
President-elect Joe Biden has promised changes in U.S. foreign policy, including an openness to revisiting the Iran nuclear deal. Voices in Israel and here are telling Biden to look beyond just putting the nuclear deal back on track. “This is not the Middle East you left four years ago,” New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote last week. He argued that Iran’s distribution of precision-guided missiles to its proxies is a greater threat to stability than its nuclear program, and that the threat needs to be addressed.
Friedman may be right. If so, it would be a lot more helpful to the Biden administration to have a stable, reliable partner in Jerusalem to help navigate that and many other complex issues in the Middle East.