That Likud MK Yoav Gallant will be the next defense minister is not really news, seeing as it was leaked weeks ago. What could be news is whether Gallant entering the defense minister’s chair with a set of 12-year-old demons to exorcise could finally lead to the climactic war with Iran that many have predicted for a long time.
What demons of the past might Gallant be contending with, and why might the decision of incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint him as the new defense minister usher in an era of escalation against the Islamic Republic?
To answer that, we need to turn back the clock to August 6, 2010, when a debate of titans took place that would determine the course of Israeli history for the next decade.
Israel 2010: Yoav Gallant and the debated attack on Iran's nuclear program
On one side were then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak, who said they wanted to order a massive preemptive aerial strike against Tehran’s nuclear program to prevent it from crossing certain lines.
On the other side were then-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin – all of whom opposed any attack on Iran prior to the point where the nuclear “sword” was at Israel’s throat. In other words, they viewed Netanyahu and Barak as hysterically alarmist and jumping the gun when there were other options, like covert sabotage, to avoid a war.
Netanyahu and Barak backed off, but then settled on trying again once they had a new IDF chief of their choosing (Ashkenazi was appointed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert) who would take on their more aggressive approach to the Islamic Republic.
That man was Gallant.
The perfect Netanyahu-Barak plan was derailed when Gallant was essentially disqualified as unworthy by state gatekeeper officials.
On August 6, 2010, the “Harpaz Document,” originally and briefly known as the Gallant Document, was leaked by Col. (res.) Gabi Siboni to Channel 2.
It described a plot to improperly advance then-Maj.-Gen. Yoav Gallant toward becoming the next IDF chief of staff and to undermine the office and power of Ashkenazi.
When the media first published it, Gallant was in the running for IDF chief of staff.
It was even briefly thought that the document was a strategy document by Barak and his aides, who favored Gallant, or by Gallant himself, to help him get there.
Very briefly at the start, the narrative was that whoever leaked the document did so to prevent Barak or Gallant from allegedly inappropriately influencing the process.
Within a short time, however, the police determined that the document was forged.
In a turn fit for the most far-fetched conspiracy movies, the police concluded it had been drafted and leaked in order to inappropriately frame Gallant for actions he had not taken.
The investigators’ theory, which the State comptroller and prosecution later confirmed, was that someone, eventually found to be Ashkenazi ally Lt.-Col. Boaz Harpaz, opposed Gallant being appointed IDF chief of staff, and leaked the document in order to thwart his candidacy by dragging him into a made-up scandal.
Gallant was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, but the scandal led to a much deeper dig into his past and found that he had abused his military power to advance personal real estate interests.
His candidacy evaporated and he was considered “damaged goods” for years – with his new defense minister appointment being his first significant role since.
Netanyahu and Barak gave in to the existing security establishment conventional wisdom and called off the attack, trusting Israel’s fate to a mix of covert sabotage and sanctions diplomacy.
For better or for worse, this meant that there has been no war with the ayatollahs for the past 12 years, but it has also meant that Iran was eventually able to cross the lines that Netanyahu and Barak (and probably Gallant) had wanted to block them from crossing.
In the IDF, Gallant was known as a top and fearless general, but also as willing to take great risks, whether in Gaza or Iran, as well as being less concerned about civilian casualties and diplomatic fallout.
So is Netanyahu putting him in the Defense Ministry because he does not consider him a potential rival, and giving him a key high-profile role avoids helping such a rival?
Or has Netanyahu finally got the man he wanted running the defense establishment who can give him cover to strike Iran as he said he wanted more than a decade ago? Might Gallant also go rogue and order some of his own attacks, as some Israeli defense ministers have done in the past?
It is well known that a major reason the US invaded Iraq in 2003 was that a similar cohort of officials had wanted to take down Saddam Hussein in 1991, and they decided that during their next chance in office, they would finish the job.
Might this be Netanyahu and Gallant’s chance to redo their missed opportunity in 2010 to attack?