Benny Gantz – unspun from all the spins

The key to leadership is the ability to motivate, to create a team, to know when to rebuke and when to praise.

Benny Gantz speaking in Naharayim  (photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
Benny Gantz speaking in Naharayim
(photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
“What’s he ever done? What does he know about politics?” So I hear from the “knee-jerks” on the Right.
I must be truthful. I am astounded at the amount of spin people will drape over themselves to fend off accusations against their chosen leader.
Here is the main spin, heard with my own ears from a dyed-in-the-wool Likudnik: “Benjamin Netanyahu is the victim of an immoral state prosecution; there is an evil cabal of state attorneys, police, lying former subordinates, and the media. All are colluding in a plot to get rid of Netanyahu.”
And who is the “he” who has never “done anything?’’ Who’s the one who knows nothing about politics? Why, of course, it’s Benny Gantz.
Since I, too, did not know what Gantz did or didn’t do, I decided to do some intensive, almost backbreaking research. I opened Wikipedia. Here’s the man who pops out of that big library in the cloud:
Gantz grew up in a home knowing what dangers Jews faced, since his parents were Holocaust survivors, who later were among the founders of Kfar Ahim. That village was named after the two Gruber brothers who fell in the War of Independence.
True, these two facts are not things he did, but they attest to the constant knowledge of Jewish pain suffered and overcome, and of Israel’s war to exist, and its immeasurable cost in human lives.
Gantz was drafted into the IDF at age 18, in 1977. He chose to join the Paratroop Brigade and was a close witness to unfolding history: in a formative moment for him, he was assigned to the security detail of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat when he flew to Israel to open peace negotiations in 1977.
Gantz was selected for officers’ training and returned to the brigade. He was also chosen to complete a training course with the US Army Special Forces.
He took part in the First Lebanon War and later led a battalion in counter-guerrilla operations inside Lebanon. In 1991, he led the commando unit that was sent to Addis Ababa to secure the 36-hour operation that brought 14,000 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel.
In the course of his military career, Gantz served as commander of the Shaldag Unit in the air force; the 35th Paratroop Brigade; the Reserves Division in the Northern Command; the Lebanon Liaison Unit; and the Judea and Samaria Division. He was OC Northern Command from 2001 to 2005.
For the uninitiated, Shaldag – whose very name was not revealed for decades – is tasked to deploy, undetected, beyond enemy lines to conduct on-the-ground reconnaissance, and to establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, guidance to targets and commando actions.
In plain English, Gantz was a commando leader, served as a brigade and then division commander in both the North and in Judea and Samaria, was responsible for the safety of the north of Israel, while honing the aggressive power of the units assigned to his command. He led women and men into battle in the 1982 Lebanon war, the south Lebanon anti-guerrilla operation and the Second Intifada. He later served two years as commander of the Ground Forces.
(I guess that, so far, he has done nothing, right?)
Wedged into this remarkable record was the highly political-diplomatic role of heading Israel’s Liaison Unit for Lebanon, which must have included coordination with our secret services and intelligence operations. This liaison, I must assume, forced him and his staff to sort out priorities in the convoluted web of Lebanon’s ethnic and religious strands, and their interplay with Syria and Iran, and the Western CIA and French intelligence operators who were in the field.
Gantz, having trained with US Army Special Forces, must have been very useful when he was appointed Israel’s military attaché in Washington, where he served from 2005 to 2009. This position brought him into contact with the highest level of US military commanders and the defense establishment, as well as familiarity with suppliers and manufacturers of hardware we purchase in the US.
(Wow! He can speak English well enough for foreign generals, admirals and CEOs. Wow! He strengthened and helped create new relations with key players of Israel’s most important ally!)
All of this requires careful political lobbying and diplomatic courting, as well as a clear understanding of economic interests involved both within the US and in Israel’s defense industries.
On completing four years in Washington, he was appointed deputy chief of staff, and in 2011 the cabinet appointed him chief of staff with the highest IDF rank – lieutenant-general.
HERE COMES the kicker. “It’s different in the army. There you just give an order.”
(Really? You just give an order?)
This is total proof that the “he did nothing” crowd knows zero about leadership. The key to leadership is the ability to motivate, to create a team, to know when to rebuke and when to praise. This does not begin when you are at the top. It begins when you receive your first job managing a few people, or commanding – as a one-bar second lieutenant – a platoon of new recruits who are almost your age. It shows itself in the easy, natural charisma of a person who gathers followers because of his personality, as well as his position of power. And it is knowing how to wield that power in a positive, nonthreatening way.
And if anyone thinks that controlling and directing your own generals is easy, with all the contenders angling for more power for their commands and advancement for themselves, he knows zero about the reality of the military or any large organization. And the essence of leadership is to balance all these pulls with the strategic and tactical needs of a dynamic neighborhood.
Furthermore, the defense budget is about NIS 70 million. The exact portion directly included in the IDF budget is classified, but it is presumably the largest single item of our national expenditure. To take ultimate responsibility for preparing and presenting that budget is part and parcel of the work of the General Staff and its chief.
In Gantz’s case this experience is bolstered by his academic record: two MA degrees, one in political science and another in national resources management. Lest you think his world is narrowly defined by those studies, his BA field was history.
The spinmeisters have one advantage. They work in a five-party Netanyahu-owned spinning mill. Their spins must be unspun.
The man “who has done nothing” will know how to deport himself with dignity and self-respect.
When Levi Eshkol became prime minister in 1963, I was asked (serving as his spokesman at the time) by the New York Times correspondent, “Will Eshkol be a great prime minister?”
Since he was following the unique and great David Ben-Gurion, it was a tough question. My answer was, “Greatness is tested in times of crisis. Eshkol’s greatness will be to try to avoid crises.”
Gantz, if he can weld together enough support to become prime minister, may also become, in his own right and steadfastness, a healer, who will try to avoid crises and wars.
Like Eshkol, he will make sure that we have the best possible diplomatic backing and military power to face down our enemies and achieve further economic growth and social harmony.
Maybe by then he will have finally done something.
The writer served as director of the overseas division and as secretary for public affairs in the offices of prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol, respectively. He is a founding dean of the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University and was World Chairman of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal for a decade. Comments to [email protected]