Gantz and Ashkenazi – the former IDF chiefs who are politically AWOL

Instead of being an alternative to Likud, Blue and White simply serves Netanyahu

DEFENSE MINISTER and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz speaks to Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 31. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
DEFENSE MINISTER and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz speaks to Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 31.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
“Missing in action” is the best way to describe Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi these days. The two former IDF chiefs of staff are barely seen or make their voices heard.
They haven’t fallen into enemy hands, but besides the occasional photo op, video update or statement, at the moment, they barely contribute to local political discourse.
Forget about Ashkenazi. Until Saturday, he was completely underground. Not a word, not a sound. He tweeted something on September 20, on September 25, and then again on the 30. It seems as if he only comes up for air in five-day intervals.
Behind the scenes, Blue and White is falling apart. Members of the party no longer understand, or remember, why they became partners in a coalition that has failed at the only mission it set itself, and what was the reason Gantz and Ashkenazi gave when they went back on their word and joined a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the man they had vowed to topple.
The decision of Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir on Friday to quit is now just the beginning, Blue and White party members say. More ministers look certain to walk away from Netanyahu’s table.
Instead of posing as an alternative to Likud, Blue and White simply serves Netanyahu. Gantz and Ashkenazi have enabled him to remain in power and to stay prime minister and pass anti-democratic legislation such as the law preventing demonstrations, even when there is no evidence that people contract coronavirus at rallies.
That decision to join Netanyahu not only dismantled Blue and White, it also went against what Gantz had been telling people before and after the election in March – that he did not believe a word the prime minister said, “not even half a word.”
But then he flipped, turning from someone who didn’t believe Netanyahu to someone who signed a deal that the prime minister has consistently violated and has refused to implement.
Despite everything, Gantz’s strategy remains constant. He prefers to turn the other cheek for as long as possible in the hope that Netanyahu will allow him to become prime minister in November 2021.
The reasoning is that if he manages to get Netanyahu across the budget deadline in December, he will be locked into the job next year. Right now, this appears to be all Gantz cares about and until next year, the country can fall by the wayside, as far as he’s concerned. Although that’s pretty much the case already.
While Gantz is seen occasionally at IDF events – he attended the delivery of the Iron Dome system to the US Army this week – Foreign Minister Ashkenazi is completely hidden from view.
He hardly gives interviews, he doesn’t speak publicly very much and he barely tweets. It seems as if he hasn’t fathomed that an elected official is not like being the country’s top soldier, a position that is revered by the vast majority of the population. Nevertheless, as a senior member of Israel’s leadership, he has an obligation to be transparent and to speak to the public.
Ashkenazi’s fellow party members interpret his silence through one of two possibilities. The first is that he doesn’t want to take the blame for the failure to control coronavirus. If he’s not involved and if he doesn’t talk, perhaps he’ll get lucky and avoid the mud slinging match which is certain to ensue.
The second, is that he is planning – if elections are called – to oust Gantz and grab the helm of Blue and White. By keeping a low profile, he can always say later that he was opposed to the government and didn’t play a significant role in its decisions.
The problem for Blue and White is that the party that was meant to offer a credible alternative to Netanyahu has been swallowed up by him. Party members are pushing Gantz and Ashkenazi to fight back and revert to presenting voters with an alternative, even if such a move could lead the government to disintegrate.
The announcement on Friday that Gantz told Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn to begin the process of appointing a new state attorney is intended to elicit a fight with Netanyahu and it remains to be seen whether Gantz will be willing to shepherd such a crisis all the way to another election at a time when his party is tanking in the polls.
Time will tell, but for Blue and White this could very well be a last lifeline.