Netanyahu not even close to breaking down, Gallant’s firing proves that - analysis

By taking out Gallant, so swiftly, Netanyahu is sending a strong message to those within his own party who might to want help put the brakes on the judicial overhaul plan.

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant are both seen in the Knesset in Jerusalem. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant are both seen in the Knesset in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant comes as no surprise to those who listened to what he said in London.

It should come, in fact, as no surprise to anyone who has been following the government’s dramatic push to fast-track the judicial overhaul legislation over the last three months.

Financial experts warned that it’s an economic disaster as Western leaders expressed concern and military brass said the upheaval it’s caused in the army is a security threat.

At each turn, there has been this expectation that now, Netanyahu will at least pause the process, followed by a surprised jolt when this has not happened.

The hundreds of thousands of protesters against the plan have not made a dent, as clarity grows that the most effective means to halt the judicial overhaul will come from within, primarily from the Likud.

Yoav Gallant (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)Yoav Gallant (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

By taking out Gallant, so swiftly, Netanyahu is sending a strong message to those within his own party who might want to help put the brakes on the judicial overhaul plan, which he believes will strengthen Israeli democracy and which its opponents fear will transform it into a dictatorship.

Alongside those two sharply divided camps, is a third one, which believes, as Gallant did, that the process itself has become a security threat.

Let’s be clear, Gallant is a strong right-wing politician who belongs within Netanyahu’s political camp, the kind who should be free to express his security views and vote with his conscience.

For Netanyahu to take this step, just three months into his tenure, he would also have to be willing to allow his Iran strategy to take a hit, given that allies who were just starting to work with Gallant on a joint military strategy would now have to start anew with another defense minister.

If Netanyahu wanted to underscore how important the issue of judicial reform is to him, he could not have picked a stronger symbolic move.

Netanyahu has stood strong against foreign and domestic pressure before

There was a moment less than three days ago when the turmoil surrounding the reform process almost seemed to overwhelm Netanyahu.

He had just landed in London and arrived at Downing Street. He was driven into the compound in a black Range Rover, passing a protest of over 100 Israeli and Jewish activists.

Netanyahu left the Rover and began a solidarity walk that almost seemed metaphoric.

It was a brief walk, less than a minute, as he headed up the sidewalk to the door of 10 Downing Street.

He wore a black suit, a red tie and was absent a coat on the chilly but sunny Friday morning.

In the distance one could hear the chants of the protesters outside the complex, waving Israeli flags and holding up signs warning that Netanyahu was transforming Israel from a democracy to a dictatorship.

Netanyahu initially seemed solemn, his head down as if weighted by the noise outside. Then he lifted his head and broke into a smile as he saw British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak open the door to 10 Downing Street and step out onto the sidewalk to greet him.

Those seconds seemed to almost illustrate a picture of an isolated Israeli leader, so engulfed in turmoil that it followed him to London. The persistent protests by a small group of mostly Israeli activists who often called out in Hebrew words like “democracy” and “shame,” dogged him the entire trip, underscoring the image. At times they added whistles and drum beats to their calls.

Even as he left, they surrounded his convoy on both sides of the small road outside the Savoy Hotel.

The protesters cast such a large shadow because they underscored the large rallies across Israel for the last three months, involving hundreds of thousands of protesters.

The street is not the only arena of tumult. Netanyahu arrived in London at odds with Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara, who accused him of violating his conflict of interest deal, and with Gallant, who warned that his judicial overhaul plan was harming the country’s security.

Just two weeks ago in Berlin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz publicly warned him against taking steps to harm minority rights and urged him to pursue a consensus-based approach to judicial reform.

Last week, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich created a crisis with Jordan, by speaking next to a graphic that looked like a map that included the Hashemite Kingdom within its borders.

Israel’s strongest ally, the United States, summoned Israel’s Ambassador Mike Herzog to the White House to protest the Knesset’s vote to repeal the 2005 Disengagement Law in northern Samaria.

The scaled-down London trip was missing some of the pageantries of Netanyahu’s diplomatic forays aboard. Typically he pauses next to a red carpet leading to the airplane before taking off to talk to the media, giving them an optimistic statement about the goals of his trip. On this flight to Great Britain, he silently boarded the plane, nor did he issue a statement just before returning to Israel.

The complimentary public comments scheduled for the start of his meeting with Sunak were canceled.

It’s a compelling but misleading narrative.

Netanyahu, however, has often been an Israeli leader willing to stand strong against enormous domestic and international pressure.

One need look no further than Netanyahu’s decision in 2015 to urge Congress not to support US president Barack Obama’s Iran deal.

A solitary position for Netanyahu does not mean a weak position. When he sat down to speak with reporters at the Savoy Hotel after his talk with the British premier, he did not seem ruffled by the turbulence around him.

Netanyahu did not give the impression that he was a leader who looked to cave to the dictates of others but rather that he thought that others should meet his stances.

Why did Netanyahu fire Yoav Gallant?

At issue for him was the growing phenomenon of IDF reservists who have threatened to stop serving in the army to protest the judicial overhaul plan.

Gallant was so concerned that such a refusal poses a security threat that he risked his post as defense minister, one he worked toward all his life, to urge Netanyahu to suspend the fast-tracked legislative process.

Netanyahu told reporters that the phenomenon is a “security threat,” which he explained was every reason why the top military echelon should stand firm against and can not cave to it. Such threats did not sway Netanyahu to want to stop the reform process. The opposite, he felt, such IDF refusal can not become a standard political tool to sway government policy.

“The state cannot exist without the army. You will not have a state. It’s very simple. All the redlines have been crossed here,” he emphasized.

Netanyahu spoke as a man sure of his path and certain that the reform plan, once passed, would prove that his assertion that it would strengthen the state was correct.

He explained that pausing the reform process would not end the protests, which he believes would continue regardless.

Netanyahu in the past has presented himself as a man who would have preferred to execute the process through consensus. There could have been three months of talks between the opposition and the coalition about the process, Netanyahu has said. He has accused the opposition of wasting time by insisting that he halt the reform process during the talks.

An official portrayed his time in London and his talk with Sunak as one focused on substantive diplomatic issues: Iran, Russia and the pending free trade agreement with Great Britain.

The official described an agenda that seemed divorced from the domestic crises, almost as if they did not exist.

Outside Downing Street, protesters held up a sign that said, “Dictator on the run,” alluding to Netanyahu.

It was wishful thinking on their part.

Netanyahu is not on the run, he is on the offensive. He has no intention of backing down and he is most certainly not AT a breaking point.

His decision to fire Gallant proves that.