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Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

Gantz’s Global Diplomatic Maneuvers

In a political landscape fraught with escalating tension, Benjamin “Benny” Gantz, former Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and President of the National Unity Party, recently embarked on a high-stakes diplomatic journey. His decision to defy Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s objections and venture to Washington and London nonetheless appears to unveil the simmering discord within Israel’s five-man war cabinet.

Gantz’s meetings with US Vice President Kamala D. Harris and US National Security Adviser Jacob J. Sullivan in Washington, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and British Foreign Secretary Lord David W.D. Cameron in London, ostensibly focused on regional security and humanitarian crises, have reignited speculation about the fissures within Israel’s political sphere.

Dan Avnon, a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, suggests to The National, a publication based in the United Arab Emirates, that “Gantz’s decision signals a departure from concealing internal differences within the war cabinet.” Ambassador Sergio Vento goes further, viewing Gantz’s move as a direct challenge to Netanyahu’s leadership and potentially the start of succession planning in Israel’s political landscape.

Reports of Netanyahu’s resistance to Gantz’s overseas visit, citing concerns over reputational risk and stability risk, only serve to amplify speculations about power dynamics within Israel’s upper echelons of power. Behind the veneer of official narratives lie implicit conversations hinting at the possibility of a seismic shift in Israeli politics.

Gantz’s reception in Washington pivoted around discussions on neutralizing further threats by Hamas and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. However, Harris’s public call for an immediate ceasefire highlights the underlying tensions in bilateral relations. Official dialogues between Gantz and US officials, while adhering to diplomatic decorum, reflect diverging perspectives between Israel and the Democratic Administration on the path to resolving the conflict in Gaza.

Niram Ferretti, a Middle East analyst, contends, “Washington appears to prioritize an agreement with the Palestinian Authority to normalize Gaza, rather than focusing on demilitarizing Hamas and securing a clear victory for Israel. This includes pursuing a ceasefire long enough for President Biden to promise a Palestinian State, amidst the uncertainty of the upcoming presidential election in November.” In contrast, Netanyahu advocates for a security-focused strategy, proposing Israel’s presence on the Gaza-Egypt border and the replacement of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) with other international aid groups.

Jacob Magid wrote in the Times of Israel, “Gantz, who polls indicate could be a formidable candidate for prime minister if an election were held today, is perceived as a political moderate,” positioning himself somewhere in between. Magid further observes, “He has maintained ambiguity regarding his stance on Palestinian statehood — a matter deemed crucial by Biden for achieving a lasting peace post-conflict, but staunchly opposed by Netanyahu.”

Gantz’s positioning as a potential successor to Netanyahu is not without controversy. Ferretti views the timing of Gantz’s diplomatic venture amidst the Gaza conflict as unfortunate, potentially signaling maneuvers aimed at precipitating Israel towards early general elections.

The visit to the United Kingdom provided a more nuanced engagement, with discussions highlighting the interconnectedness of geopolitical interests and the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. Meetings with the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister underscored the UK’s evolving role in the region, although internal divisions regarding Palestinian state recognition were apparent.

According to an official statement, Lord Cameron “made clear the steps Israel must take to increase aid into Gaza, and the UK’s deep concern about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.” The pair discussed efforts to secure a humanitarian pause to get the hostages safely home and life-saving supplies into Gaza. But, significantly, Lord Cameron subordinated a humanitarian pause to the release of all hostages by Hamas.

Sunak then joined a second meeting held with Gantz, at which UK national security adviser Tim Barrow was also present. The Prime Minister stressed that the UK supports Israel’s right to self-defense. According to The Jewish Chronicles, a publication based in the UK, Sunak said that while pressure is mounting in the British public and parliament, he does not allow himself to forget October 7th, adding “It changed everything.”

The meetings further elucidated the UK’s stance on Palestinian statehood. Following the backlash from Tory MPs to Lord Cameron’s prior suggestion that Britain could advance its formal recognition of a Palestinian state, government ministers were cautioned by the parliamentary party. They warned that such a move would be perceived as a ‘reward’ for Hamas atrocities in Israel on October 7. Additionally, they highlighted the risk of ‘equipping’ terror groups with ‘the trimmings and capabilities of a state’. Consequently, Lord Cameron emphasized, “Clearly, part of a two-state solution is the recognition of Palestine as a state; however, I don’t believe that should occur at the outset of the process.”

The UK’s more articulate stance, diverging from the USA’s overt approach, reflects London’s meticulous foreign policy calculations. In anticipation of a potential Biden defeat and a return to a Trump presidency, the UK finds it imperative to keep all options open. By maintaining constructive relations with the current administration while preparing for potential shifts in US foreign policy, London aims to safeguard its national interests.

As diverging stakeholders compete for influence in the intricate landscape of Middle Eastern diplomacy, Gantz’s journey highlights the clash of interests and priorities. President Biden’s hastily formulated plans for Palestinian statehood risk escalating tensions, while the UK’s astute positioning underscores the significance of nuanced diplomacy. Throughout, Israel’s unyielding resolve echoes its dedication to domestic security and regional stability, showcasing its enduring strength in turbulent times.

About the Author
Giuseppe Levi Pezzulli ("Bepi") is a Solicitor specialised in International financial law and a foreign policy scholar. His research interest is economic statecraft. In 2018, he published "An alternative view of Brexit" (Milano Finanza Books), which investigates the economic and geopolitical implications of Brexit. In 2023, "Brave bucks" (Armando Publishing House), which highlights the role of private capital in the industrial policy mix. Formerly an Editor-in-Chief of La Voce Repubblicana; is a columnist for the Italian daily financial newspaper Milano Finanza; a pundit for the financial TV channel CNBC; and a Middle East analyst for Longitude magazine. He received degrees at Luiss Guido Carli in Rome (LLB), New York University (LLM), and Columbia University (JD).
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