How Gantz and Gallant can bring down Netanyahu

File: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) and Minister Benny Gantz (right) embrace, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at left, at a joint press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on November 11, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
File: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) and Minister Benny Gantz (right) embrace, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at left, at a joint press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on November 11, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

The recent speeches by Benny Gantz and Yoav Gallant criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failures in his management of the war, laden with urgency and conviction, have sparked a crucial conversation about Israel’s future beyond the war. Yet they have the potential to reverberate beyond mere rhetoric; they could signify a seismic shift in Israeli leadership.

Gantz, in his Saturday night address, laid out a clear ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: commit to a comprehensive strategic plan for the aftermath of the Gaza war by June 8, or face the consequences of Gantz’s withdrawal from the government. Gantz’s assertion that essential leadership decisions have been neglected strikes at the core of Israel’s existential challenges, highlighting the dangers of indecision in the face of looming threats.

Similarly, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s rank-breaking critique last week of Netanyahu’s handling of critical post-war issues underscores a growing sentiment among the Israeli public. Gallant’s call for a new approach to governance in Gaza, one involving non-Hamas Palestinian entities backed by international support, marks a significant departure from the status quo. His warnings about the erosion of wartime gains due to lack of planning resonate deeply within the security establishment, reflecting a consensus that immediate action is imperative for Israel’s long-term security interests.

Last April, Gallant warned that Netanyahu was bringing the country to breaking point with his judicial reforms. The speech initially got him fired, sparking mass anti-government protests that forced Netanyahu to eventually rescind the dismissal. His warnings weren’t heeded then—this time we all should listen.

The urgency in Gantz and Gallant’s messages, both then and now, stem from a genuine concern for the nation’s well-being. And they have both made clear what they think is needed to safeguard Israel’s future—a new leadership direction. To bring about such a change, however, they will need more than individual shows of concern, and more than even ultimatums to leave the government; they will need to work together.

Individually, neither Gantz nor Gallant has the political clout to bring about immediate elections. Together, they may be able to bring down the government. On their own, each offers only a weak immediate threat to Netanyahu’s rule. Together, they could mark the beginning of a transformative chapter in Israel’s political history.

Since October 7, the political landscape has indeed shifted dramatically. But while Netanyahu has experienced a massive decline in public favor, with polls repeatedly showing Gantz overtaking him, the prime minister has since initiated a strategic campaign to reclaim his lost ground. And his plan is evident: to defer elections as far as possible from the October 7 events, banking on the gradual dissipation of public anger directed towards him.

In order to retain the massive boost in support he has seen since October 7, Gantz needs his potential June 8 exit from the government to precipitate elections. His departure alone from the government, however, wouldn’t automatically trigger elections and the coalition would still retain the 64-seat majority with which it was sworn in with in December 2022. That’s where Gallant comes in.

Gallant surely must realize that his days in Netanyahu’s Likud are numbered. His criticism of Netanyahu, both before October 7 and after, has effectively sealed his fate, ensuring he will be ousted from the party either by the Likud leader or its primary voters, or both. His only viable option to remain as defense minister would be to join Gantz as his second-in-command.

The imperative challenge would be to persuade at least four other Likud MKs to finally betray Netanyahu and vote to bring down the government during the war. Gallant would need the support of disillusioned lawmakers within Likud such as Yuli Edelstein, Avi Dichter, Nir Barkat, Danny Danon, and others who harbor grievances against Netanyahu. They have stuck with him until now, but could the threat of elections and the specter of a humiliating defeat finally persuade them to break ranks and betray their beloved leader? The realization that their political futures hang in the balance, and that a delay in elections could spell historic disaster for Likud, booting them from their seats, may just prove to be a tipping point.

Gallant and Gantz, along with the other Likud evacuees, could present themselves to the voting public as an emergency wartime coalition. This alliance could involve a rotation agreement, with Gantz serving as prime minister and Gallant as defense minister, switching roles after two or three years—as has been proposed and done in recent years.

This arrangement could capture the support of many in the public. Both Gantz and Gallant are seen as strong military leaders. Gantz has garnered significant support from Israel’s centrist bloc, while Gallant could attract right-wing voters disenchanted with Netanyahu. Although changing prime ministers during a war might concern some, Gantz and Gallant offer some continuity, while also displaying impassioned commitment to the county above themselves, as opposed to Netanyahu.

While both Gantz and Gallant have exhibited the courage and foresight to challenge the status quo, their ultimate test lies in translating their bold rhetoric into concrete action. Their individual acts of defiance against Netanyahu demonstrate their willingness to confront entrenched power structures, yet the true measure of their effectiveness hinges on their ability to coalesce their efforts.

Ultimately, while they have each shown grit, the question remains whether they have the collective strength to bring new leadership to Israel.

About the Author
Raoul Wootliff is Head of Strategic Communications at Number 10 Strategies, an international strategic, research and communications consultancy. He was formerly the Times of Israel's political correspondent and producer of the TOI Daily Briefing podcast.
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