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Israel’s Gantz slams Netanyahu, unveils hawkish foreign policy  

Benny Gantz, former Israeli military chief of staff Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv on 29 January 2019 [Amir Levy/Getty Images]
Benny Gantz, former Israeli military chief of staff in Tel Aviv on 29 January 2019 [Amir Levy/Getty Images]

The head of the Israel Resilience (Hosen L’Yisrael) Party, Benny Gantz, has ruled out joining a coalition with incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if the latter is indicted for corruption.

Delivering his first campaign speech yesterday, Gantz argued that “a prime minister cannot preside over Israel when an indictment has been filed against him,” adding: “Netanyahu is no king, his government sows division and incitement.”

Gantz did not hold back on attacking Netanyahu, though stopped short of mentioning the prime minister by name. “The government we [the Israel Resilience Party] will form will be a national government and not a monarchy. This will be a government without masters and servants, no obscene gifts and no court clowns,” he said, in a thinly-veiled reference to the ongoing corruption cases against Netanyahu in which he stands accused of bribery and receiving lavish gifts from businessmen.

Gantz continued: “Our government will not see ferocious attacks against the chief of staff, the commissioner and the attorney general. There will be no incitement against the judicial, cultural and media institutions.”

Netanyahu has made attacking Israel’s media, judiciary and police a central part of his election campaign in recent weeks, using the blanket term “the left” to lambast anyone who calls for a verdict on his indictment to be released before the general election on 9 April. Netanyahu has been engaged in fervent talks with Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, to try postpone the verdict, though Mandelblit has not wavered in his commitment to publish his recommendation.

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In contrast, Gantz yesterday sought to portray himself as the candidate of “hope”, a breath of fresh air not involved in the political infighting that has thus far characterised election season. Gantz explained:

The struggle between left and right rips us apart. Quarrels between religious and secular split us. The tension between Jews and non-Jews threatens us. The mutual guarantee of a shared society is crumbling. Politics is ugly, and the public arena has become poisoned.

However, onlookers should not make the mistake of thinking that Gantz is a dovish candidate; on foreign policy, Gantz’ message to regional foes was clear. Addressing Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Hamas in turn, Gantz warned each country or movement’s leader that he would take a hawkish position against them were he to be elected prime minister.

“[Iranian] President Rouhani – I will thwart your plots […] to harm Israel”; “[Secretary General of Hezbollah] Hassan Nasrallah – we will not tolerate a threat to Israeli sovereignty”; “[head of Hamas in Gaza] Yahya Sinwar – I suggest you not test me again,” he said in yesterday’s speech.

Since Gantz announced the formation of his party and joined the election race in December, he has maintained a calculated silence about many of his opinions and campaign pledges. Though many thought he could run on a centre-left platform – buoyed by his promise to “fix” the Nation-State Law – his campaign video released earlier this month raised eyebrows for boasting that, during his time as the Israeli Army’s Chief of Staff, he had bombed the already-besieged Gaza Strip “back to the stone age”.

Earlier this week Gantz revealed that he has agreed to run on a joint ticket with another former Chief of Staff and Defence Minister, Moshe Ya’alon. Speaking for the first time since the alliance was revealed, Ya’alon yesterday said that he wouldn’t support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Ya’alon has a long history of positions such as this, opposing Israel’s “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and opposed US-led peace talks.

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