Benny Gantz steps forward, speaks up

On Tuesday, former IDF chief Benny Gantz launched his bid to replace PM Benjamin Netanyahu. In a live, televised speech, Gantz described himself as neither on the right nor the left politically. He also ripped into the prime minister, whom he claimed is sowing “division and incitement.” In a tweet after Gantz’s speech, Netanyahu pushed back: “To those who say he is neither right nor left—he’s left.” The speech was sharply criticized by Gantz’s rival parties on the center-right, but, nonetheless, the newcomer to politics has emerged as a credible alternative to Netanyahu, whom he thanked for “10 years of service as prime minister.” But now, he said, “it’s time to move on.”

HOW IT PLAYED — The silent Israeli general challenging Netanyahu in the election is silent no more — by Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash: “Nicknamed ‘the prince,’ Gantz has been described by those who know him as a mild-mannered pragmatist… If Gantz forms a political alliance with other contenders ahead of the vote, he could pose a threat to the prime minister, especially given the legal woes.” [WashPost• Netanyahu’s Top Challenger Positions Himself as the Anti-Bibi [Bloomberg]

JI READERS REACT — Shalom Lipner, a veteran of 26 years in the prime minister’s office and currently a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Program, emails: “Gantz’s coming out party delivered precisely the goods that everyone anticipated: a tight, pyrotechnic package declaring his candidacy, using messaging designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience — both tough and conciliatory, extolling the peace efforts of previous prime ministers (Begin, Rabin and even Netanyahu) while also putting Israel’s sworn enemies (Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas) on notice. He also bolstered his credentials as the ‘antidote’ to the current government, paying deference to institutions such as the media, the police and the attorney-general — all subjects of Likud scorn for their roles in the investigations targeting Netanyahu — and even sharing the stage with Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, who quit as Netanyahu’s defense minister in 2016 and then pledged to unseat him.”

“Gantz can expect to get a generous post-launch bounce in the polls, but will slide inevitably as all other contenders train their arrows on the no-longer-silent contestant for Israel’s leadership. In a campaign that has so far been mostly devoid of substance or ideology, and in a country that traditionally builds up and then cuts down its heroes, it now remains to be seen whether a cynical Israeli electorate is ready to embrace Gantz as the remedy to what ails its politics.”

IPF’s Michael Koplow: “Gantz has to overcome two obstacles in order to really challenge Bibi: first, come off looking like a viable prime minister from a purely image perspective, and second, reassure Israelis that he can be trusted on security issues. His speech accomplished both of those things as his first real introduction to the public as a political figure. Whether he can actually be a threat to Bibi is going to depend on a whole range of factors beyond his control and to what extent Likud and HaYamin Hehadash are successful at portraying him as a leftist, not to mention the pending indictments. But this was as strong as a start as he could have hoped for.”

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