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update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

State Dept: Important to meet with Gantz despite ‘political intrigue’

The minister-without-portfolio is in Washington on a visit that the Israeli government has not sanctioned.

Benny Gantz, head of the National Unity party and Israeli minister without portfolio, holds a press conference at the Knesset on Feb. 26, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Benny Gantz, head of the National Unity party and Israeli minister without portfolio, holds a press conference at the Knesset on Feb. 26, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

When Benny Gantz, leader of the Israeli National Unity Party and minister-without-portfolio, meets with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, Gazan aid will top the agenda, a State Department spokesman said.

“It’s something that the secretary raised in a phone call with Ron Dermer, the Israeli minister for strategic affairs, earlier today to press that more must be done to get aid into Gaza, to ensure that the delivery of aid is sustained into Gaza and to ensure that once aid gets into Gaza it can be disturbed to those who need it,” Matthew Miller, the department spokesman, said during a Monday press conference.

Gantz is in Washington on a visit that the Israeli government has not sanctioned, and which Dudi Amsalem, the Israeli minister of regional cooperation, compared to a “Trojan horse.”

During the press conference, Miller was asked why U.S. officials deemed it appropriate to meet with Gantz given the “political furor in Israel from Netanyahu and members of his coalition.”

“Benny Gantz is a member of the War Cabinet, someone with whom the secretary has engaged in his visits to Israel, someone with whom the secretary has had one-on-one phone calls on repeated occasions when we’re back here in the United States,” Miller said.

Blinken Gantz
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with former Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv on Jan. 9, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

“So what ministers travel to the United States is—and how they make those decisions and how they coordinate is ultimately an internal matter for the government of Israel to determine on their own,” he added.

“For our part, we find him an important figure inside the Israeli government to engage with and—given the number of issues that we have currently that we are in discussion with the government of Israel about, including the need to surge humanitarian assistance in—for our purposes, it’s an important meeting to have,” he added.

Miller was pressed by another reporter. “Does the fact that senior U.S. officials—including the secretary, the vice president, national security advisor—the fact that they’re taking these meetings with Benny Gantz signal that they see in him more of a willing diplomatic partner than Prime Minister Netanyahu?”

“I would not make that assessment,” Miller said. “We’re meeting with Benny Gantz, because he’s one of three members of the War Cabinet thought to—one of five if you count the two adviser members—but one of three members of the War Cabinet who has a critical vote and a critical stake in how this war is conducted.”

“He has a critical voice in the delivery of humanitarian assistance. He’s an important figure in the sitting government of Israel, and so that’s why we engage with him,” Miller added.

A reporter noted that Gantz is a political rival of Israel’s sitting prime minister, and “Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear that he disapproves of these meetings going forward.”

“So in taking these meetings, did the U.S. consider that they might fuel political instability within the existing Israeli government,” the reporter asked.

“The various political intrigue inside Israel is ultimately a matter for the government of Israel and the political class in Israel that we take no position on,” Miller responded.

“The secretary has met with Benny Gantz a number of times—met with him in the presence of the prime minister. He’s met with him separately, just as he’s met with members of the opposition and members of the—and other members of the government,” Miller said. “We’ll continue to do that because we think it’s important to do so and advances the interests of the United States.”

Miller was also asked if U.S. officials agreeing to meet with Gantz, over Netanyahu’s criticism, risked reducing Gantz’s ability to be effective.

“I am not going to make assessments about the varying levels effectiveness—of effectiveness of any member of the government of Israel,” Miller said.

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