Former military Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz fired the opening shot of his election campaign with a video that's making the rounds on social media and turning the tables on the right wing’s attacks. It features Likud ministers Miri Regev and Yariv Levin as well as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the New Right denigrating his views and his record. Their litany is drowned out by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s voice chanting “They are a-f-r-a-i-d,” the famous taunt he directed at the liberal media when he was drumming up voter support for his run in the 1999 elections. Gantz is now using Netanyahu’s catchy cadence to mock the right’s hysterical reaction to his rising star in Israeli politics.
True, this is the nature of politics. Each party lauds its candidates and presents its rivals’ weaknesses and failures. In Gantz’ case, however, the right will stop at nothing, not even at distorting and rewriting history, to discredit him.
His critics ramped up their attacks against Gantz on Jan. 14, when he came out of his house to greet members of Israel’s Druze protesting the controversial 2018 nationality law. The protesters, led by Brig. Gen. Amal Assad, argue that by granting Jews the sole right to self-determination in Israel, the law discriminates against minorities. “I will do everything in my power to fix the nationality law,” Gantz said in his first public political statement. Referring to the fact that the Druze (unlike Israel’s Arab minority) serve in the military, Gantz added, “We have a deep and unbreakable connection, not only in battle, but also in life.”
Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan was first to attack, citing the October 2000 shooting death of an Israeli Druze soldier at Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank. As the divisional commander, Erdan tweeted, Gantz was part of a group of officers “that turned its back on him and did not do everything in its power to save his life.” Former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter was right behind Erdan on Twitter. “The cloud of Madhat Yusuf, an IDF fighter from the Druze community who bled to death at Joseph’s Tomb, hangs over Gantz’ head,” he wrote. Dichter neglected to mention that he himself, as head of the Shin Bet at the time, was in charge of contacts with Palestinian security head Jibril Rajoub, who had promised to evacuate the Israeli soldier to safety.
The attacks on Gantz were well orchestrated. Those who were sent out to the microphones to defend Netanyahu against suspicions of bribery are now reciting new talking points prepared by the Likud. According to Yediot Ahronoth, Likud associates had prepared a “Gantz file” to slander him and tarnish his image.
Yusuf's death is one of three dramatic events that ignited the second Palestinian uprising against Israel in the fall of 2000. On Sept. 30, 2000, Palestinian boy Muhammad Al-Durrah was shot to death at Israel’s Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip. The shooting was caught on camera by a French television crew, fueling outraged protests in the West Bank. The following day, thousands of Palestinians stormed Joseph’s Tomb near the West Bank town of Nablus, where a small Israeli military contingent was deployed to protect Jewish worshippers. Yusuf was wounded by Palestinian sniper fire, leaving Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz two options. One was to send an armed military force into the compound, which was surrounded by thousands of angry Palestinians, and risk dozens if not hundreds of deaths. The other was to await the Palestinian evacuation force promised by Rajoub. The decision to wait for Rajoub was made by the top echelons based on information provided by Dichter himself as head of the Shin Bet.
The Palestinian rescuers were late in coming, and Yusuf died of his wounds. According to the logic of military hierarchy, Dichter’s responsibility for Yusuf’s death is greater than Gantz’. As head of the country’s security agency, he should have known that Rajoub would not risk sending his men into the maelstrom and being labeled an Israeli collaborator.
Dichter had no qualms about taking personal credit for another dramatic event. On Jan. 13, he went on Twitter to mark the 23rd anniversary of the assassination of Yahya Ayash, a notorious Palestinian bomb maker known as “the engineer” who was killed in a sophisticated Shin Bet operation with a booby-trapped cellphone. “23 years ago we got rid of him; I sent him a cellphone at a blast of a price,” Dichter tweeted.
In fact, it was Shin Bet chief Carmi Gilon who made the decision to take out Ayash in January 1996 and was responsible for its execution. Dichter served at the time as the head of the Shin Bet’s southern district. The assassination set off a series of bomb attacks in Israel that cost acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres the elections and handed them to Netanyahu, whom Dichter now seeks to please.
It appears that when generals go at each other, facts and decision-making can be shaped in accordance with politics. Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, who served as housing minister in the Netanyahu government before crossing the lines recently from Kulanu to the Likud, is trying to engineer for himself a slot high on the Likud list by adopting Netanyahu’s talking points, which include slinging mud at Gantz.
“I think that [Gantz] knows why he is silent. I also know why he is silent, and the thousands of officers who served under him know why he is silent,” Galant said at a Jan. 5 event in the town of Nes Ziona. The next day, he criticized Gantz’ performance during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s summer 2014 war with Gaza. “He achieved a draw against a second-rate team called Hamas,” Galant snidely opined.
Galant got his facts mixed up. While Gantz was indeed the head of the Israel Defense Forces during the war, he was under the command of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Netanyahu, who boasted of monitoring the situation closely from the underground war room in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu made the decision to avoid unseating the Hamas regime for fear of throwing the Strip into prolonged chaos, and he was the one who forced the IDF into a 50-day war that only ended with an Egyptian-mediated cease-fire.
Now Netanyahu’s emissaries and servants — hawks Galant and Dichter, along with Erdan, Regev, Levin and others — are willing to do anything to preserve Netanyahu’s rule and ensure a spot for themselves at his side, even at the cost of defiling the IDF, the most sacred institution of Israeli society. In so doing, they cast serious doubt on Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s immortal injunction: “It is not enough for a commander to know his job. … If the commanders instill trust, dedication and love in their soldiers, every Jewish mother can be assured that she has placed the fate of her sons in the hands of commanders worthy of her trust.”
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