Analysis: Is Deri looking for a way out of his pledge to Gantz?

Gantz was promised the Prime Minister's office on rotation, but that pledge has been thrown into doubt.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri.
One of the cornerstones of the current, deeply divided government was a guarantee reportedly given by Shas chairman Arye Deri to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz that he would ensure that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would fulfil the prime ministerial rotation agreement with his rival when the time came.
But on Monday, Deri threw that promise into severe doubt when he publicly lambasted Gantz for his decision to establish a ministerial committee to probe Netanyahu’s role in the purchase of submarines and naval vessels.
In a televised statement, Deri blasted Gantz’s decision, said he had desecrated the “holiness” of the defense establishment, and warned that the government was in the last chance saloon, stating: “I’m not sure if there is justification or benefit to continue this partnership,” in reference to the government as a whole.
What caused this seeming about face?
One senior Shas official told The Jerusalem Post that Deri was genuinely upset by Gantz’s decision, and that his words on Monday about the defense minister using his ministry as a political propaganda tool were heartfelt and sincere.
“Arye sees security issues as the holy of holies. He is the only minister still in the security cabinet from the [Yizhak] Shamir government, and he really believes that what Benny [Gantz] did was a desecration of the holy,” said the official.
And Deri did indeed appear sincere at his press conference on Monday, stating that he had worked to convince Gantz and Netanyahu to establish a unity government because he believed that the COVID-19 crisis required an end to the election cycle, and insisting that the government focuses only on the public health and economic problems the country now faces.
But alongside these crises, the relative strength of the political blocs has, according to the polls, changed significantly, with the right-wing, religious bloc widely predicted to defeat the center-left and be able to form a government by itself – without need for Gantz, Blue and White or anyone else.
Perhaps, reading these polls, the wily and mercurial Deri no longer sees a political need to be in Gantz’s good graces or to court his good will.
The coalition is not cohesive, but is disparate, fractious and frequently at war amongst its two camps. So reading the political winds, might Deri be willing to dump the man he promised would be prime minister?
The Shas official did not rule out such motivations, saying that “A politician is allowed to have political considerations,” and that Deri might well believe that changed political circumstances could allow for a reshuffling of the political cards.
But he insisted that Deri was still committed to his promise for the time being and was working to build bridges within the coalition and pass a 2021 budget, which Gantz demands and Netanyahu resists, ostensibly because it is the last opportunity to allow the government to fall without Gantz becoming prime minister.
“It’s not over yet,” he said.