Tags: Israel | Middle East | Netanyahu | Gantz | Palestine | Likud | Blue and White

Meet Benny Gantz, Israel's New Power Broker

benny gantz speaking wearing a navy blue suit and maroon colored tie with a white shirt
Benjamin "Benny" Gantz (Amir Levy/Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 25 May 2020 09:02 AM

International politics have been noticeably out of focus in the American 24-hour news cycle, which focuses almost exclusively on the impact of the coronavirus. As a result, nearly all American news outlets have relegated the latest developments to the back pages or bottom of the news hour.

In the process, the media has given the American public minimal information on Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Benjamin “Benny” Gantz, who will become prime minister in just 18 months.

Since current Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu failed to attain a majority in the Knesset in the last national election, his conservative Likud Party forged a coalition with the centrist Blue and White party headed by Benjamin Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi — both past chiefs of the general staff of the Israeli Army. 

After careful negotiations in no less than 14 meetings between Netanyahu and his rival Gantz, the two entered into a coalition government composed of Likud and about half the parliamentary members of the Blue and White party.

But none of this tells the American reader exactly who Gantz is and what he brings to the table for in terms of Israeli foreign policy.

U.S. Experts Size Up Gantz

Several leading minds on foreign policy and American-Israeli relations chose to answer these questions to Newsmax about the man who will be in charge in a short 18 months. 

Special Representative for Venezuela at the Department of State and former senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations Elliott Abrams offered his private, personal, and expert opinion on Gantz.

“[T]here is a pattern of having the top general of the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] go on to become Prime Minister,” Abrams told us. “In the Cabinet now, you now have two former heads of the IDF, Gantz and Ashkenazi, that bring a lot of real-world experience to the room.”

Abrams also told an anecdotal story about Gantz, who he met when Gantz was serving as Israel's military attaché in the United States.

“He came to see me one time regarding Lebanon, when I was on the White House staff,” said Abrams. “He was concerned about the arms sales and military [assistance] to the Lebanese in the event there was another round of hostilities with Hezbollah such as there was in 2006."

According to Abrams, “there was a concern that those weapons could be taken by Hezbollah, and [Gantz] came to see me to ask if certain types and quantities of weapons wouldn’t be sent to the Lebanese army.

“I said to him, ‘Look, what are we talking about here? If you have to take on the Lebanese army, what’s it going to take you? A day, a half a day, or what?’ Gantz replied, ‘You’re right, but in that day, half of a day, or whatever it would take, some of my boys are going to die — and I am responsible for them. I don’t want one of them to die because of a weapon that was supplied by the United States.’”

Abrams recalled that “I thought to myself that’s a really good answer, because he is making the argument of a general who is responsible for any army for the young men and women under his command.

“I was so impressed by that argument that it raised him in my estimation of him when we first met.”

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has been “a dear friend to Prime Minister Netanyahu for over half of a century," told Newsmax that he believes that since Gantz will be relatively new to the role of Prime Minister, he “should use the 18 months prior to ascending to the office to observe how Netanyahu has been handling Israel’s foreign policy.”

As to where Dershowitz sees conflicting views between Netanyahu and Gantz, he feels “they are on the same page with Palestinian issues. They may have potential disagreements over annexation of settlements and the role of the courts in Israeli domestic politics.”

Annexation of settlements is on a lot of minds in the foreign policy community. 

Marshall Breger, professor of law at the Catholic University of America and vice president of the Jewish Policy Center, told us “the red-line issues are what Americans and foreign policy experts should be focusing on.”

In Breger’s view, “many Americans don’t know that the landscape of Israeli politics is largely based around consensus building, as seen in the form of coalition governments in the Knesset. Gantz is agreeing to work with Bibi, who has decades more political experience than him. So time will tell.”

The view that there will be a large consensus between Gantz and Netanyahu was echoed by Guy Ziv, an assistant professor of international relations at American University's School of International Service, in his assessment of the coalition government’s foreign policy objectives.

But Ziv also elaborated on the possibilities of where the disagreements between Netanyahu and Gantz could be stark and potentially catastrophic.

“If you look at the annexation issue, and if it were up to Gantz, he would pursue peace with the Palestinians,” said Ziv. “If Bibi implements annexation [in July], we could see the collapse of the [ruling] Palestinian Authority, which could lead to both apolitical power vacuum and a deeper humanitarian crisis in the territories.”

Ziv was also quick to add that “there is already a large consensus on most foreign policy issues within Israel, so Gantz will be relatively the same as Netanyahu on most foreign policy questions.”

Dershowitz agreed, opining that “[t]here will be two sets of keys when making foreign policy decisions. When it comes to Iran, no prime minister of Israel would allow Iran to develop a nuke. Gantz will bring more credibility to Israeli military deterrence.”

David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Project on the Middle East Peace Process and author of a new book on Israeli leaders entitled "Be Strong and of Good Courage," mentioned that the coalition between Gantz and Netanyahu was heavily predicated on “the annexation issue, which is the big story and will be coming to a vote on July 1st.

“Bibi stated that it should be based on the full Trump agreement, but Gantz and Ashkenazi said that while that was necessary, it’s not sufficient. Jordan has been a silent, key partner for moderation, since the peace deal in 1994. Gantz doesn’t want to do anything on annexation on the Jordan Valley that would be viewed as unilateral. That would put the peace treaty in peril.”

All of the experts who spoke to Newsmax were asked which prime minister from Israeli history would they liken to Gantz. 

Most replied by comparing him to Yitzhak Rabin, leader of the Labor Party who embraced the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as prime minister and was assassinated in 1995. The second-most voiced comparison was to Ehud Barak, Labor prime minister from 1999-2001 and a moderate on the Palestinian issue. The other figure with whom Gantz was compared was Ariel Sharon, elected as a hard-liner on the Palestinian settlements but eventually moderating on the issue and leaving Likud to form his own party, Kadima. 

All three were much-decorated retired generals known for their bravery, just like Gantz.

It is, however, only time that will tell how Benny Gantz will fill the shoes of his predecessors.

(Michael Cozzi is a Ph.D. candidate at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.)

© 2020 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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International politics have been noticeably out of focus in the American 24-hour news cycle that focuses almost exclusively on the impact of the coronavirus. As a result, nearly all American news outlets have relegated the latest developments to the back pages or bottom of...
Netanyahu, Gantz, Palestine, Likud, Blue and White, settlements, prime minister
Monday, 25 May 2020 09:02 AM
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