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Benny Gantz emerges as linchpin for US in bid for Israel-Saudi normalization

The White House is clearly hoping that National Unity party leader Benny Gantz will get Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s back, when a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia arrives at the Knesset for a vote.
Israel's opposition leader and former defence minister Benny Gantz attends a press conference in Jerusalem on February 13, 2023, against controversial legal reforms being touted by the country's hard-right government. (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP) (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images)

TEL AVIV — As efforts continue for an Israeli-Saudi normalization deal, the Biden administration clearly sees National Unity leader Benny Gantz as a key player who could counterbalance objections by hard-liners in the Israeli government and perhaps campaign for such a deal among the Republican party.

Gantz's Washington visit this week was clandestine. The former defense minister took off from Israel on Tuesday night, but his office did not publicize the trip and the matter was kept secret until after his Washington meeting the next day with national security adviser Jake Sullivan. The White House was similarly circumspect.

News of the meeting only emerged once it ended and both sides confirmed it in vague readouts. According to Gantz's office, the two men "discussed promoting Israel's vital security interests, expanding its integration in the region, and dealing with the Iranian threat and with Iran's proxies in the Middle East." In Washington, the National Security Council’s version was even sparser, saying only that Sullivan and Gantz “met to continue their discussion on a range of bilateral and regional interests of mutual concern.”

White House did not discuss future Israeli government

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