Ahead of campaign launch, Gantz’s Israel Resistance party joins forces with Ya’alon’s Telem

Gantz’s new Israel Resilience party will be running in the upcoming April 9th national election on a joint list with the also-new Telem party, headed by former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

By Associated Press and World Israel News

Retired Israeli military chief Benny Gantz is launching his long-awaited political campaign Tuesday, seeking to position himself as the first serious challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decade-long rule.

Gantz’s new Israel Resilience party will be running in the upcoming April 9th national election on a joint list with the also-new Telem party, headed by former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, it was announced on Tuesday afternoon. Gantz will deliver his first political speech Tuesday night after weeks of silence since announcing his candidacy.

Flaunting a tough military pedigree, Gantz’s emergence in the polls as Netanyahu’s top rival highlights how security rules supreme in the minds of most Israeli voters. Straight out of central casting, the tall, telegenic ex-general with salty hair is still untarnished by partisan politics and has been riding a wave of popularity, even while saying little and presenting a vague ideological platform.

Most polls show Gantz’s new party, “Israel Resilience,” coming in second to Netanyahu’s Likud in a crowded field of contender. A second-place finish would position Gantz for either a top Cabinet post in a Netanyahu-led coalition or to be a high-profile opposition leader.

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Gantz gave Ya’alon’s party three slots of the top 10 in their joint Knesset list, according to Hebrew-language media reports, although Telem has been given poor poll ratings.

Gantz is believed to hold moderate positions toward the Palestinians. That would set him apart from Netanyahu. But Gantz has been cagey about voicing his opinions, apparently wary of alienating conservative voters.

“Benny Gantz is silent. I think I know why he is silent. Thousands of officers who served under him also know why he is silent,” said Yoav Galant, a retired general from Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party and a former rival of Gantz’s in the army. “When you have nothing to say, you don’t speak.”

In one of the few political ads he has put out, Gantz stressed how, as military chief, he pummeled the Hamas terror group in the 2014 Gaza war.

Against aerial images of destruction in Gaza, the ad declares: “Hamas suffers blow after blow, 6,231 targets destroyed, 1,364 terrorists killed, 3.5 years of quiet, only the strong prevail.”

‘Appeal of the generals is beyond rational’

With Netanyahu seemingly unbeatable,and the country dealing with security challenges on its northern and southern borders, the 2019 election has seen a revival in generals jumping back into politics.

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“The appeal of the generals is beyond rational, it is emotional,” said Amir Bar-Or, an expert on civil-military relations in Israel at Sapir College. “Everyone in Israel knowns that security comes first, so the only realistic alternative to Netanyahu is a military man.”

“It marks the return of the generals’ popularity,” said Yohanan Plesner, head of the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute and a former lawmaker and military commando. “History teaches us that generals have the best chance of passing the test of public confidence.”

Even so, Gantz’s hope of hopping straight into the job of prime minister is unprecedented. Even Rabin, Barak and others had to work through the political party machinery for several years before coming to power.

Gantz, 59, was a paratrooper who rose up the ranks to head special operations units and other various commands before serving as military attache to the United States and ultimately becoming Israel’s 20th military chief from 2011-2015. His term was marked by two wars with Hamas in Gaza and a covert air campaign in Syria against Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Ya’alon, who served as IDF chief of staff from July 2002 until July 2005 as defense minister in Netanyahu’s Likud government for three years until resigning in 2016, had appealed for a merging of parties to better compete in the elections. “I also call for a combination of forces to put an alternative to the leadership of the state and work to advance it. The time has come for us to take responsibility,” he said last month.