columnIsrael at War

Gallant, go home

The Israeli defense minister’s disgraceful display was—in the words of the late baseball great Yogi Berra—“like déjà vu all over again.”

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with IDF soldiers at a staging area near the Gaza border, Oct. 19, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with IDF soldiers at a staging area near the Gaza border, Oct. 19, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant made it evident on Wednesday evening that he has got to go. Yes, in the throes of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, the person tasked with overseeing the country’s security apparatus had the gall to take to the airwaves to undermine the whole endeavor.

His remarks came three days after a chummy phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinke and were taken right out of the Biden administration’s playbook.

“I call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza Strip; that Israel will not establish military governance in the Gaza Strip; and that a governing alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be raised immediately,” he said.

He also asserted, “The ‘day after Hamas’ will only be achieved with Palestinian entities taking control of Gaza, accompanied by international actors, establishing a governing alternative to Hamas’s rule.”

The disgraceful display shouldn’t have come as a shock. On the contrary, it was—in the words of the late baseball great and master of malapropisms Yogi Berra—“like déjà vu all over again.”

Indeed, three things became clear about the defense minister practically from the moment that he assumed his role less than a year and a half ago. One was his cowardice in the face of opposition from the left—an unfortunate, albeit typical, trait for a former Israel Defense Forces general in charge of the Southern Command.

The second was his disloyalty to his party, Likud, and its chairman, Netanyahu, who appointed him to the position in the first place. The third, related to the other two, was his prioritization of future political concerns over present military ones.

Rewind to March 2023. His own government was encountering major pushback over its plans to reform the judicial system. Establishment elites on the bench, in academia and in the media were able to persuade much of the general populace that curtailing some of the powers of the virtually omnipotent Supreme Court would be the end of Israeli democracy.

Hefty financial backing from anti-Netanyahu individuals and NGOs in Israel and abroad aided the “anybody but Bibi” camp’s effort to succeed where it had failed a few months earlier at the ballot box. The well-oiled protest movement’s hysterical demonstrations succeeded, however, at dominating the discourse.

As if that weren’t pathetic enough, the “people’s army” got into the act, with the cream of the crop of the IDF threatening that without an end to the “coup d’état” (the protest movement’s misnomer for judicial reforms), Jerusalem could forget about counting on Israeli Air Force pilots to confront Iran.

Rather than demanding that IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi warn them that such blackmail incurs their ouster from the IDF or at least result in a stripping of their ranks, Gallant not only conveyed their complaints to Netanyahu; he began to behave as though he saw the merits of their case. His argument was that Israel’s very visible internecine strife was weakening it in the eyes of its enemies.

He got that part right. But his conclusion was that the process of judicial reform should be stopped, and he let his boss know that he was going to reveal this sentiment to the public at large.

About to embark on a state visit to Britain two days later, Netanyahu requested that Gallant hold off. The latter agreed to comply.

Netanyahu then delivered an address to calm the nation’s tensions. In his speech, he articulated the purpose of the reforms—to enhance, not harm, Israeli democracy—and assured that all civil and minority rights would continue to be guaranteed after they were implemented.

Gallant opted to pull a stunt rather than keep his promise. He took the opportunity of Netanyahu’s trip to London to bite the very hand that fed him the position he’d so coveted.

As soon as Bibi’s back was turned in the direction of the United Kingdom, he held a press conference in which he called on the government to halt judicial reform legislation in order to heal the societal rifts that had gone so far as to infiltrate the IDF.

“I hear the voices from the field and I’m worried,” he said. Netanyahu’s justified response, upon his return from a weekend in London, was to fire Gallant.

The hell that broke loose was music to Gallant’s ears. That the demonstrators went wild was to be expected, since what could be better for them than having a Netanyahu appointee and key member of the “full, full, right-wing government” take their side?

Histadrut Labor Federation Secretary General Arnon Bar-David joined in the action, calling for a general strike and threatening that it would be in effect until all judicial-reform legislation was scrapped. He also urged Netanyahu not to sack Gallant.

After local authorities, banks, shopping malls and even the Ben-Gurion International Airport shut down, and the health-care system was on the verge of following suit, Netanyahu declared a pause in judicial reform moves. Two weeks later, he said that he and Gallant had put aside their disagreements.

Both in real-time and in retrospect, the choice was unwise. Israel needs a defense chief right now whose sole aim is to enable the head of the IDF to destroy Hamas. Neither Gallant nor Halevi should be focused on any other goal—certainly not a delusional one entailing Palestinian rule in Gaza.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi, founder and chairman of the Israel Defense and Security Forum (“Habithonistim”), summed it up succinctly in a clip addressed to both of them.

“What this nation wants is a distinct victory over Hamas and the return of the hostages,” he stated. “The ‘day after’ is of no interest at the moment; nobody knows what will be. First, take down Hamas. Return the hostages. Deal with [Hezbollah] in the north. We know we don’t want Hamas, [Palestinian Islamic] Jihad or the Palestinian Authority. We won’t allow you to return the P.A., the entity that armed Gaza from head to toe, bringing it from the Stone Age into the rocket [age]. It’s not an option.

“Creating an alternative will take time. You, [Gallant and Halevi], have to take responsibility for the Strip, as well as on the [distribution of] humanitarian [aid]. That’s the way it is. The ‘day after’ will first entail imposing martial law and from there, gradually, solutions will be found. But not now! Now we win! Beat Hamas! Why are you conducting these discussions now? Doing so runs completely counter to Israeli interests and what the people want. Go and secure a victory,” Avivi said.

That’s Gallant’s job, after all. If he isn’t capable or willing to perform it, he should apply for a fellowship at a think tank.

Netanyahu didn’t come out and say this in his rebuttal to Gallant on Wednesday night. But it was a relief to hear him reiterate that he’s “not willing to exchange Hamastan for Fatahstan”—acknowledging that P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction is no less of a terrorist threat than the one that brave and dedicated Israeli troops are currently engaged in eliminating.

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