columnIsrael at War

The gall of Benny Gantz

If the War Cabinet member is being sidelined during the current hostage-release negotiations, it's with good reason.

Minister-without-Portfolio in Israel's War Cabinet Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Nov. 27, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Minister-without-Portfolio in Israel's War Cabinet Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Nov. 27, 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 Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz delivered a speech on Tuesday that sheds light on his alleged exclusion from the decision-making process surrounding the current negotiations in Qatar for the release of the 134 remaining hostages in Hamas captivity.

Gantz, the National Unity Party leader who joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for the duration of Israel’s war against Hamas, is a voting member of the “triumvirate” War Cabinet. Alongside Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, he has played a central role in determining the direction of the existential battle against the terrorist organization that perpetrated the Oct. 7 massacre.

According to Israel Hayom defense analyst Yoav Limor, however, Gantz was suddenly sidelined on Sunday. Limor claimed that Netanyahu decided at the last minute that only he and Gallant would be giving directives to the Israeli delegation leaving for Doha the following day.

Though Limor’s report was based on anonymous sources, and therefore might well be inaccurate, it is nevertheless plausible. Gantz has demonstrated that he can’t be trusted as a team player, particularly not while preoccupied with his campaign to replace Netanyahu at the helm.

His unapproved excursion to the United States and Britain earlier this month—in the guise of a state visit—was a glaring example of his political priorities. It was a wink to the powers-that-be in Washington and London that he will be a better ally than Netanyahu—someone to form a less right-wing government more open to peace-processing with the Palestinians.

That the trip backfired, with Gantz receiving a dressing-down rather than a propping-up, wasn’t merely ironic. It illustrated his cluelessness about international attitudes towards Israel that have nothing to do with Netanyahu.

Which brings us to the remarks he made at the Makor Rishon newspaper’s conference on security and society in Sderot. Addressing the issue of the hostages, Gantz called securing their release a “moral obligation” and “strategic necessity,” both integral to winning the war.

“All of us, everyone who held leadership positions before Oct. 7, bears responsibility for the disaster,” he said. “The government that I joined in light of the state of emergency has a broad, binding and tremendous responsibility for the past, but also for the present and the future…Israel has a responsibility to its citizens. This covenant must not be broken, even at painful costs,” he said.

He went on: “As in the case of the last time we negotiated [a hostage release], if there is a real opportunity [today] to bring them back, we will take it…There will be a price to pay for this and it will hurt. This is the price of the covenant between the state and its citizens; violating it will exact a heavy historical price on Israeli society.”

No Israeli disputes the failures of the military and political echelons that enabled Hamas barbarians to commit the worst atrocities against Jews since the Holocaust. Nor does any citizen doubt that ransoming the hostages will put the rest of the populace at risk.

But such breast-beating serves only to raise the cost and decrease the chance of a deal. For Gantz to engage in this kind of self-serving piety—with a team of his peers in Qatar trying to counter Hamas’s delusional demands—was beyond feckless. Apparently, it didn’t occur to him that the “responsibility” he kept mentioning applied here.

Still, this was nothing compared to the real clincher.

“Yes, we have broad considerations and, yes, there can be differences of approach,” he stated, vowing: “My friends and I will make sure that any decisions made [in relation to the hostages] are motivated solely by practical considerations for the good of the country.”

This, he added, “is not only a commitment to the hostages and their families; it is our responsibility to the State of Israel and Israeli society.”

The implication was as clear as Gantz’s gall: that he will be the gatekeeper, at the ready to make sure Netanyahu prioritizes national interests over personal ones.

Shame on him for the very suggestion, let alone in the form of a reassurance to the desperate families of the hostages that he, not Netanyahu, has their back. No wonder his input at this delicate juncture is unwelcome.

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