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Ex-Israeli Officers Launch Political War Against Netanyahu

Imagine if almost all the Democrats running for president were ex-generals, and their main claim to rule was that, well, they were ex-generals. That’s the situation Israel has found itself in, about which is said: “Israel is an army with a country rather than a country with an army.”

Military officers, both in and out of uniform, have played an outsized role in every aspect of Israeli life. Moshe Dayan [1], with his fetching eyepatch, established the archetype. Yitzhak Rabin [2] and Ariel Sharon [3] both overcame mixed military legacies (as defense minister, Sharon was officially admonished for his role [4] in the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Arabs in 1982) to make history as prime ministers. The martyred Rabin was the architect of the uneasy rapprochement with Yasser Arafat and the PLO. Sharon, who was denied Israel’s top military job, stopped the peace process begun by Rabin in its tracks.

Shimon Peres [5] was never a member of this club. His lifetime of leadership in Israel’s security system, including his central role in creating the Israeli nuclear arsenal, failed to erase the sense that he was somehow an outsider. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [6] is not himself a career soldier but he was an officer in the storied special forces of the Sayeret Makhtal, and his brother, Yoni, was an outsized casualty of Israel’s famed rescue at the airport in Entebbe.

With few notable exceptions, the record of Israel’s military chiefs as political and national leaders is less than stellar. For every Yitzhak Rabin, there are numerous pretenders like Yigal Yadin, Amram Mitzna, Shaul Mofaz, and Dan Shomron, whose stars sparkled brightly before quickly flaming out. Israel’s generals may have indeed proved their mettle on the battlefield, but their best days in politics were usually their first.


Ariel Sharon (DoD); Yitzhak Rabin (National Photo Collection of Israel); Moshe Dayan (White House photo)

The latest example of the effort to spin military leadership into political gold is the creation of “Blue and White,” a coalition headed by—you guessed it—a former chief of staff, Benny Gantz, who retired from the military in 2015.

The election on April 9 remains Netanyahu’s to lose, but Gantz is treading a well-worn path. Since combining with another party to form Blue and White, he is winning public support less because of his political program, which in Gantz’s case is on the right side of anodyne, than of what he represents: the responsible stewardship of Israel’s military prowess in its never-ending battle against the Arabs.

Gantz, wrote one observer in the Jerusalem Post, [7] “is an ideological free agent, which only increases his political value.”

Though they are increasingly fewer in number, there are Israelis who still favor a retreat from the West Bank and the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. On this, Blue and White is definitely not their party. Indeed, one party leader described the movement as the new Likud. Bottom line: a vote for Gantz is not a vote against the program of the long-ruling Likud, but merely against Netanyahu’s leadership of it.

Joining Gantz are two other ex-chiefs of staff in the military troika at the head of the new faction, Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon.

Ya’alon was an undisguised opponent of Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating effort, calling Kerry “delusional.” Ashkenazi’s sympathies are less hard-edged. In Israel today, this translates into support for what used to be viewed as a right-wing national security agenda.

Ya’alon was Netanyahu’s minister of defense and famously opposes any retreat on the West Bank or the creation of a Palestinian state. His political journey reflects that of the nation itself. Born and raised in the nurturing cradle of the long-ruling Labor Party, after leaving the Army’s top job in 2005, Ya’alon became a star in Likud, which suffered Labor’s uncontested rule for decades until 1977 when Menachem Begin and his settlement agenda prevailed.

Earlier this week, Gantz led a train of ex-military, intelligence, and security leaders, including former Mossad and Shabak (internal security) bosses, and the three other ex-chiefs of staff on the party list, to the Golan Heights.

They traveled to the Syrian border to declare that Israel would never retreat from the Golan Heights and would continue pushing for international recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the territory—a new favorite idea of Republicans in the Senate—which Israel captured in the June 1967 war.

“We will increase the settlement of the Golan in a way that shows the world clearly—we will not come down from the Golan; the opposite—it will be developed and [its population] doubled,” Gantz said.

None of this is news to Bashar al-Assad. But of course, sitting in Damascus 269 kilometers away, he wasn’t the audience.

Gantz’s campaign strategy appears to be producing electoral dividends, so much so that he is considering how to form the next Israeli government after elections on April 9—with Bibi’s party, but without the battle-scarred political veteran himself.

Netanyahu’s strategy to confront this challenge is an improbable one, which nevertheless has proven effective before. He is trying to convince voters that these standard-bearers, who have spent a lifetime in service to the country—Gantz’s was selected by Bibi himself to lead the army—are in fact dangerous leftists. A Likud campaign video cautioned [8] that the former generals are in league with those who would “hand the Gaza periphery to Hamas,” and “will sit with [Arab lawmaker Ahmad] Tibi in an [electoral] bloc” if he wins the April election.

Netanyahu’s credentials as “Mr. Security” and Arab baiting are standard fare on the prime minister’s election strategy menu. The generals commanding Blue and White may find his troops harder to defeat than the Palestinians.

Geoffrey Aronson is chairman and co-founder of The Mortons Group, and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute.

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Ex-Israeli Officers Launch Political War Against Netanyahu"

#1 Comment By Whine Merchant On March 13, 2019 @ 4:09 am

It’s nice to see who will really control the American government, rather than the charade of the Democratic and Republican primaries.

Thank you –

#2 Comment By next please On March 13, 2019 @ 4:28 am

It’s hard to imagine any Israeli PM being worse for America than Netanyahu has been, so one’s natural reaction is “good luck to the Israeli generals”.

#3 Comment By Ed On March 13, 2019 @ 2:01 pm

The documentary film, The Gatekeepers, more than suggests that former Israeli intelligence chiefs have moderate and conciliatory views with regards to the Palestinians. Is that all just the usual hasbara?

#4 Comment By Ray Joseph Cormier On March 13, 2019 @ 2:37 pm

The Jewish Bible refers to the Prophet Micaiah for only one Day, one scene and situation of his life.

About 3000 years ago, the kings of Israel and Judah had a Summit meeting to discuss going to War with Syria over the Golan Heights.

All 400 prophets of Israel were summoned to tell the kings if God was with them in the War?
They were unanimous saying, “Ascend, and the Lord will deliver it into the hands of the king.”

King Jehoshaphat of Judah was skeptical of the unanimity, and asked the king of Israel if these were ALL the Prophets in Israel?
The king said, ‘there is 1 more, but I hate him. He never says anything good about me.’

Guards were sent to get Micaiah and told him all the other Prophets were unanimous. God would give the king a win, so don’t rock the boat, and go along with the others.

He did in a way saying, “Go up and triumph, and MAY the Lord deliver it into the king’s hand.”

The Bible has no record of any other Time, and the king of Israel said to Micaiah, “How many Times must I adjure you that you shall not speak to me but truth in the name of the Lord?”

Micaiah, in “speaking TRUTH to POWER” said, I saw all the Israelite’s scattered over the mountains like sheep who have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master. Let them return each one to his house in peace.’ ”

Micaiah continued, “Therefore, listen to the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord seated on His throne, and all the host of heaven were standing by Him on His right and on His left.
And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab so that he will go up and fall in Ramoth-Gilead?’ One said in this manner and another one said in that manner.
And a certain spirit came forth and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him,’ and the Lord said to him ‘How?’

‘I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And He said, ‘You will entice and you will prevail. Go forth and do so.’
And now, behold the Lord has placed a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, whereas the Lord spoke evil concerning you.”

Naturally, one of the other Prophets gave Micaiah a smack to the head.

The king went to War against Syria over the Golan, ordering Micaiah held in prison on minimal rations until he returns in Peace.
Micaiah said: “If you will return in peace, the Lord did not speak to me.” And he said, “All the nations listen.”

The king of Israel was killed in the battle.

The Nations are not listening as History repeats itself.

#5 Comment By Jeeves On March 14, 2019 @ 3:43 pm

The martyred Rabin was the architect of the uneasy rapprochement with Yasser Arafat and the PLO.

To the extent it’s possible to have an “uneasy rapprochement” with a dedicated terrorist who never had any intention that there should be a State of Israel.

Sharon, who was denied Israel’s top military job, stopped the peace process begun by Rabin in its tracks.

When Arafat launched the Second Intifada, you mean?

I see the usual sock-puppetry about an Israeli fifth column is alive and well at TAC.

#6 Comment By Somewhere Over The Rainbow On March 15, 2019 @ 10:48 am

Who knows? Maybe an Israeli general will have more self-respect than Netanyahu has. Maybe an Israeli general won’t let Israel suck blood from American taxpayers, hide behind the American military, or egg America on to fight Israel’s enemies. (Yeah I know. Fat chance.)

#7 Comment By PAX On March 16, 2019 @ 10:17 pm

How many other countries are better friends to the US than Israel? Why not more press about their elections? Under what planetary expansion is Israel a friend of anyone but Israel? All who want their treasure and their lives sacrificed for Israel; raise your hands. If your hand is not up, write your politicians and complain about endless wars on their behalf.

#8 Comment By stargood On April 8, 2019 @ 7:33 pm

I see a few comments about America fighting Israel’s wars, Israel sucking America’s blood, etc. These comments are idiotic. No American soldier has ever fought or died in any of Israel’s wars (Israel never started any wars, but they finished them). Israel has fought all wars against it alone, and decisively. The USA has never fought a war on behalf of Israel.

The vast majority of US aid to Israel is spent with American defense contractors, thereby creating thousands of jobs for American citizens, and giving a boost to the US economy. Plus, America is privy to defense technology created by Israel. For example, the US Department of Defense just purchased two units of the Iron Dome anti-missile battery, designed and manufactured in Israel.

All of those knocking Israel with these types of comments should be honest with themselves and everyone else. You are no more concerned about America than any other American citizen. Just admit it. You hate Israel, and you hate Israeli Jews. You are not fooling anyone.