FO° Talks: Benny Gantz Goes: Make Sense of Israel's New Crisis

On June 9, centrist politician Benny Gantz resigned from the three-man Israeli war cabinet. He complained that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not listen to him, dragging the Israel–Hamas war on unnecessarily and refusing to contemplate a plausible peace settlement. Yet Netanyahu will stay in office thanks to his far-right coalition allies and impeccably pursue his flawed policy. Neither Gantz nor the White House can stop or sway him.


On June 9, Benny Gantz resigned from the three-man Israeli war cabinet. A centrist, he was a moderating force on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet Gantz has thrown in the towel, decrying Netanyahu’s handling of the ongoing Israeli military operation against Hamas in Gaza.

Who is Benny Gantz?

Gantz is a career military officer and served as commander-in-chief of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) until 2015. In 2018, he entered politics, forming the new Israel Resilience party. The new party did relatively well, establishing Gantz as an important figure in the center-left. Over time, Gantz shifted closer to the center or even slightly toward the center-right.

In 2023, after the Israel–Hamas war broke out, Gantz joined the new war cabinet alongside Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party. Gantz’s fellow party member Gadi Eisenkot, who had also served as commander-in-chief of the IDF, and Likud member Ron Dermer served as observers.

Gantz joined the war cabinet for a mixture of patriotic and political reasons. He told his supporters that he would serve as the sane man in the room, ensuring that Israel’s war effort be conducted competently and acting as a counterbalance to the extreme right-wing parties that Netanyahu relies on for political support. He also hoped to gain political prominence by placing himself firmly in the center of Israeli political life. For a while, the gamble paid off for him — Gantz’s approval ratings shot up in the first months after the war. However, as the war dragged on and Israeli citizens realized that Gantz didn’t have as much influence over Netanyahu as he had promised, his ratings slumped.

Netanyahu’s hawkish approach to the war proved to be too much for Gantz to bear. He tendered his resignation, citing Netanyahu’s unwillingness to listen to his fellow ministers. A critic could observe that Gantz was wrong to think Netanyahu would listen from the start.

Gantz leaves Gallant behind in the war cabinet. The defense minister had served as a balancing person in the three-member war cabinet. Although a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, he often joined Gantz in attempting to reign Netanyahu in. Gantz even called on Gallant to realize the untenability of his position and resign along with him. Yet Gallant has stayed on. However, he seems to be resisting Netanyahu at every turn.

Aside from Gallant, the vast majority of the Likud members of parliament support their leader Netanyahu. The prime minister’s personal brand now overshadows Israel’s national conservative party. Netanyahu’s other supporters in parliament are religious Haredi Jewish parties and radical right-wing Zionists like Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir. Ben-Gvir is a West Bank settler and has called for Jewish settlement in Gaza. Whenever the war effort faces a setback and Netanyahu loses face, it is Ben-Gvir who picks up disaffected right-wing votes. Yet Netanyahu is a shrewd political player and, so far, remains the key man. Neither the Haredis nor the extreme Zionists can govern without the Likud leader.

Why did Gantz resign?

For the time being, Netanyahu remains firmly in power. He does not need the support of his centrist fellow minister Gantz. Yet in his departure, Gantz voiced concerns that resonate in many parts of Israel.

Above all, Gantz complained that the war has been going on too long. It is not clear that there is any military necessity for Israel to continue its invasion of Gaza. The IDF are unlikely to subdue Hamas to any greater extent than they already have. Netanyahu is dragging the war on for his own personal selfish reasons. In 2019, Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges. As long as the war continues, there will not be elections and he will remain prime minister. Until then, he will very conveniently not face prosecution. So, it is in Netanyahu’s interest to delay as long as possible.

Gantz’s second chief criticism is that Netanyahu brooks no compromise regarding the postwar governance of Gaza. All agree that Hamas will have no role, but many moderates and the US want the Palestinian Authority (PA), which currently administers the West Bank, to govern after the IDF withdraws. Openness towards this option would secure the support of many Arab states and make a peace settlement far more feasible. Yet Netanyahu will not budge. The right wing of his coalition sees any step towards PA sovereignty in Gaza as a step towards PA sovereignty in the West Bank — and Ben-Gvir will not be turning in the keys to his residence in Hebron any time soon.

So, Gantz has given up on talking to a wall. Indeed, Netanyahu no longer seems to have any plan except to wait and see.

What is he waiting for? A more favorable administration in Washington following the US presidential election this November? A sudden change of heart in Riyadh, with the Saudi monarchy offering normalization without the promise of Arab governance in Gaza? A collapse of Hamas? None of these things are likely to help him even if they did happen. Yet, he has no better options than to wait.

Netanyahu is not a fool. He is a competent political player. But he is better at playing political games and staying in power than he is at grand strategy and achieving Israel’s long term goals. For now, the ship of the State of Israel seems more or less rudderless.

Will US–Israel relations now sour?

Without the moderating presence of Gantz, one may ask whether Jerusalem will now have even more trouble talking to Washington.

US President Joe Biden is an ardent supporter of Israel. He has even described himself as a Zionist. Yet this Democrat does not get along well with the Likud leader. In the past, Netanyahu has made no secret of his preference for Republicans, either.

In recent months, tensions between Biden and Netanyahu have skyrocketed. Biden is growing impatient with Netanyahu’s refusal of to accept ceasefire. Netanyahu is growing impatient with the White House telling him what to do.

Yet, despite Netanyahu’s seemingly impossible situation, it is Biden who has more to lose. The US president is playing a dangerous game. While Arab Americans and other Democratic constituents have voiced their displeasure with US support for Israel, polling reveals that an even greater number of Democrats blame Biden for not supporting Israel enough. They are disgruntled that the White House appears to have taken a turn against the Jewish State.

The US is home to the second-largest population of Jews in the world. Jewish Americans traditionally vote Democrat and are a well-organized interest group. Large Jewish populations in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Philadelphia might express their displeasure by staying home in November. This could tip the crucial swing states of Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania in Republican candidate Donald Trump’s favor and possibly lose Biden the election. Already, moderate Democrats like Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman and West Virginia senator Joe Manchin are beginning to break ranks with the president. Biden may no longer have the political freedom to put pressure on Israel.

The war serves none of America’s interests. It will not subdue Hamas, nor will it lead to a rapprochement between Israel and Iraq. Rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, will likely occur de facto with or without the war. Meanwhile, the war is destabilizing the Middle East and enflaming Islamist and anti-Western sentiment around the world. So, America’s interest is to end the war as quickly as possible. As things stand in Jerusalem, however, it is not clear that Washington will have any success.

[Anton Schauble wrote the first draft of this piece.]

The views expressed in this article/video are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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