Israel – talks with a possible future Prime Minister
by Viktor Mikhin on 26 Mar 2024 0 Comment

The recently completed visit by senior Israeli politician Benny Gantz to Washington and London, and especially its positive outcome, not only attracted world media attention, but may also provide an indication about who may be Israel’s next Prime Minister. This raises the question of just who Benny Gantz is, and why he was honoured with an invitation to the two capitals, given that current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never paid an official visit to Washington, at least.


Benny Gantz was born on June 9, 1959 in Kfar Achim, Israel. He is a Lieutenant General (reserve) of the Israel Defense Forces, and served as the 20th Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces from February 14, 2011 to February 16, 2015. He is also the Chairman and founder of the Hosen L’Yisrael party, represented in the Knesset of the 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th convocations by the Kahol Lavan parliamentary faction. He served as President of the Knesset from March 26 to May 17, 2020, Alternate Prime Minister of Israel from May 17, 2020 to June 13, 2021, Minister of Justice from April 28, to June 13, 2021, Defense Minister from May 17, 2020 to December 29, 2022, Deputy Prime Minister from June 13, 2021 to December 29, 2022, and Minister without Portfolio and member of the war cabinet in the Emergency Government of National Unity from October 12, 2023. Suffice it to say that the war cabinet is made up of just five members, with Netanyahu, Gantz and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant considered as the core of the group.


Differences of opinion in Israel’s war cabinet


Many media outlets around the world have written directly about serious divisions within the Israeli war cabinet, thus shedding additional light on the regime’s failed policy in the Gaza war. Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet, recently visited the United States and Britain and held successful talks with officials there despite the objections of the Israeli prime minister.


Suffice it to say that Netanyahu instructed Israeli embassies not only not to help Gantz, but to prevent his meetings with officials if possible. He did not succeed. Gantz’s visit to the United States shows that “his level of trust in Netanyahu is very low,” says Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank. It demonstrates that he wants to present an alternative point of view to Washington, he added.


Gantz, who left the opposition to join the war cabinet, disagrees with Netanyahu on how to secure the release of hostages and develop an exit strategy from the brutal war in the Gaza Strip. But his trip to Washington has attracted considerable attention in Israel and drew sharp criticism from ministers in Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party. “It looks like some kind of subversion,” says Transport Minister Miri Regev, adding that Gantz was “working behind the prime minister’s back.”


According to Dudi Amsalem, Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister and a Netanyahu ally, Gantz joined the war cabinet in order to “create unity in an emergency, not to be a Trojan horse.”  “The tension has always been there” between these “two people who hate each other,” says Reuven Hazan, a Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


Talks in Washington and London


In Washington, Gantz met with the entire American political elite, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. The talks appear to have included a kind of screening of Benny Gantz as a possible future Israeli Prime Minister, and much talk about US “impartiality” in the Arab-Israeli conflict.


There was a great deal of hand-wringing both in Washington and then in London about the plight of the Palestinians. But, as it turned out, the most pressing problem was not the cessation of the bloodbath against the Palestinians, but merely how to ensure the continuing of the humanitarian aid deliveries. According to White House officials, Kamala Harris pushed for a pause in the fighting in Gaza and called on the Israeli government to do more to allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need in Gaza. In so doing, she attempted to whitewash the American policy regarding the destruction of the Palestinians, and demonstrate to the world that the Biden administration is (supposedly) interested in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.


When Benny Gantz met with David Cameron, the British Foreign Secretary, in London, he was told in no uncertain terms that Israel must do more to allow the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza. This was a ministerial-level meeting of the kind that usually attracts only modest attention, given the huge amount of high-level diplomacy that takes place in the midst of hostilities. But in this case, Gantz and Cameron are not just civil servants. Gantz’s experience and current role is discussed in this article, and Cameron, a former prime minister, enjoys unusual leeway in his role as Foreign Secretary, and speaking out vigorously while on his international trips (in which he is often treated as if he was still Prime Minister) on issues such as Gaza and the West-backed war against Russia in Ukraine.


In their meeting, according to a statement made by Cameron, he and Gantz apparently discussed efforts to suspend hostilities. While he said the UK supports Israel’s right to self-defense, “as the occupying power in Gaza, Israel has a legal responsibility to ensure aid is available for civilians…” “That responsibility has consequences, including when we as the UK assess whether Israel is compliant with international humanitarian law.” As if he doesn’t know that the Israeli army has no respect for any international and humanitarian laws and is killing Palestinian civilians by the tens of thousands.


Reasons why the US would like to see a new Israeli leader


Having looked at who Benny Gantz is, the second question is why the West is now so concerned about replacing the Israeli Prime Minister. As the Saudi newspaper Arab News quite accurately analysis the situation: “To put it plainly, President Biden and his administration can’t wait to see the back of the first Benjamin [Netanyahu] and in this they have joined the majority of Israelis who share the same sentiment.”


From once being a political celebrity in Washington, Netanyahu has become a cause for concern, especially since at the beginning of last year he formed his populist, ultranationalist coalition, mainly to ensure his own political survival. Since then, he has been banished from Washington, becoming persona non grata in the White House. His extremely irresponsible and brutal behaviour since the onset of the war with Hamas only enhanced that sentiment.


In his place, the Biden administration is looking for a “responsible adult” in government, so they turned to another Benjamin (Benny) Gantz, whose National Party is leading in opinion polls by a wide margin and who had been summoned to Washington for a viewing. In a break with protocol, the White House invited him to visit Washington for talks with the most senior members of the administration, short of the President himself, but including Vice President Kamala Harris. Neither side consulted Netanyahu, let alone asked for his approval.


It took nearly five months for Washington to take this decision, an unusual one in the world of diplomacy, especially between close allies. In the final analysis, Israel under Netanyahu has switched from being a strategic ally of the US to being a burden that is not only directly endangering America’s national interests, but negatively affecting its domestic politics, threatening regional and international stability and becoming detrimental to the very survival of Israel.


From the outset of the sixth Netanyahu government, Biden was deeply perturbed by its assault on the democratic system and especially on the judiciary. Hence the US president refused to meet with Netanyahu for the first nine months of the current Israeli government, again a rarity in relations between the two countries. When a meeting eventually took place, last September, it was held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly - there was no much-coveted visit to the White House for the Israeli prime minister. It was an uneasy meeting, during which Biden made it clear that what bonds the two countries is their shared democratic values. This can be seen only as a coded warning to Netanyahu that straying from these values risks the special relationship between the two administrations.


Washington is under no illusion that should Gantz become Israel’s prime minister, the path toward serious negotiations on a two-state solution will not be easy, painless, or rapidly established. Yet, at this point, this is their best bet, gambling on a centrist candidate who responds to reason, has no ulterior motive, and whose considerations, unlike those of his rival Netanyahu, are not dominated by either a corruption trial or an increasingly megalomaniac and general detachment from reality.


At this point, with less than a year until the US presidential election, it is far from guaranteed that Biden will win a second term, but after more than 150 days of the war in Gaza, there is a rethink taking place as to whether Israel can be regarded as a strategic asset beyond America’s commitment to the long-term security and well-being of Israel. However, as it stands, the Biden administration is becoming increasingly alarmed and annoyed that Netanyahu is treating the alliance as a one-way street in which the tail wags the dog, and is doing his best to sabotage any chance of a post-war Israeli-Palestinian peace, and more generally the security and geopolitical architecture of the region as envisaged by Washington.


The invitation of Gantz to Washington for high-level discussions was a clear message about who Washington thinks should be in power in Israel and who the US is looking forward to doing business with. Kamala Harris’ recent speech calling for an immediate truce, and laying the blame for the mere trickle of humanitarian aid to the Strip squarely with Israel, was Washington taking the gloves off by publicly rebuking Israel’s conduct of the war. Parting with Netanyahu and his dangerous government might take longer than is desirable, but the Biden administration has now made it very clear that by not hastening its demise, Israel is in danger of losing the support of its biggest and most important ally, something it cannot afford to let happen.


Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”. Courtesy


User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top