Benjamin “Benny” Gantz is a career soldier and officer in the Israel Defense Forces. Like many high-ranking officers before him, Gantz decided to enter politics and, in 2018, formed his own party – Israel Resilience Party – to run in the March 2019 elections.
Gantz was born in Kfar Ahim, a small village in the southern part of the country, on June 9, 1959. His mother Malka is a Holocaust survivor originally from Hungary. His father Nahum was from Romania, and was arrested by the British for trying to enter Palestine illegally before reaching Israel. His parents were among the founders of Kfar Ahim.
In his youth, he attended the Shafir High School in Merkaz Shapira and boarding school at the HaKfar HaYarok youth village in Ramat Ha-Sharon.
At the age of eighteen, he was drafted into the IDF and accepted as a soldier in the Paratroopers unit of the infantry corps. In 1979, Gantz completed officer’s training school and began an illustrious career in which he would command some of the IDF’s most elite units. His command postings include: Shaldag Air Force Commando Unit (1989-1992); Paratroopers Brigade (1995-1997); Commander of the Reserves Division in the Northern Command, Commander of the Lebanon Liaison Unit, Commander of the Judea and Samaria Division (2000); Commander of the Judea & Samaria Regional Division (2000-2002); Ground Forces Commander (2005-2007); and, Military Attaché in the United States (2005-2009).
In 1989, he oversaw Operation Solomon, which brought 14,500 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. A decade later, he served as the commander of Israeli forces occupying southern Lebanon and then oversaw the country’s withdrawal from the region.
He is a graduate of the IDF Command and Headquarters College and the National Security College. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History from Tel Aviv University, a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Haifa, and an additional Master’s Degree in National Resources Management from the National Defense University in the United States.
On February 13, 2011, Gantz was unanimously approved by the Knesset to become Israel’s 20th Chief of General Staff and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated in the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that Gantz was an “excellent officer and experienced commander and had rich operational and logistical experience, with all the attributes needed to be a successful army commander.”
After assuming the role of Chief of Staff, Gantz was been involved in a number of historic moments for the IDF and Israel. In May 2011, Gantz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the appointment of Orna Barbivai to the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, making her the first woman Major General in IDF history.
In October 2011, Gantz voiced his approval and was part of the decision to exchange Palestinian prisoners for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. When Shalit returned alive to Israel after more than five years in Hamas captivity it marked the first time that an Israeli prisoner-of-war or kidnapped soldier had returned living in almost three decades.
In February 2012, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces, General Martin Dempsey, awarded Gantz the Legion of Merit award on behalf of the President of the United States. The “Legion of Merit” is a military award awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding activities and is given both to U.S. military personnel and to international army and government officials. A letter attached to the award stated that it was awarded to Gantz for his outstanding and noteworthy command and for his military service.
On February 16, 2015, Gantz completed his term as Chief of the General Staff, ending a 38-year military career, and entered a three-year legal cooling-off period during which he could not run for the Knesset. This ended on July 2, 2018. Subsequently, Gantz announced his plan to enter politics and formed the Israel Resilience Party in December.
In 2019, he joined forces with Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid to form the “Blue and White” (Kahol Lavan) ticket. The party and the Likud each won 35 seats in the April 2019 election, but Likud won more votes. After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to establish a governing coalition, a new election was called for September. In that election, Blue and White won 33 seats to Likud’s 31, but the parties again failed to reach an agreement to form a government.
A third election was held on March 2, 2020. The outcome of the election, as in the two previous ones, did not result in any party winning a majority of the votes or having an obvious coalition that would allow the formation of a government. After trailing for much of the campaign, Netanyahu rallied in the latter days and Likud gained four seats over its September showing while Gantz and Kahol Lavan won the same number.
Gantz realized it would be untenable to form a government depending on the support of the Arab Joint List, particularly after two members of his party said they would not vote for such an alliance. Without joining a unity government with Likud, a fourth election was likely, an outcome he wanted to avoid. Gantz unexpectedly reversed his pledge not to serve under a prime minister charged with crimes on March 26, 2020, announcing he would “explore the formation of a national emergency government” under Netanyahu. He told the Knesset, “These are unusual times and they call for unusual decisions.” Referring to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Gantz said, “This is the time for responsible, committed, patriotic leadership. Let’s join hands and get Israel out of this crisis.”
The announcement led to the breakup of the Blue and White Party.
Netanyahu and Gantz signed a deal on April 20, 2020, to form a “national emergency government” and avert the need for another election. According to the agreement, Netanyahu will remain prime minister for 18 months and Gantz will be prime minister-designate and deputy prime minister. In October 2021, Gantz would become prime minister. Until then, Gantz served as defense minister.
The government dissolved at the end of 2020 after the failure to pass a budget and the fourth election in less than two years was held on March 23, 2021.
The biggest story was the collapse of Kahol Lavan. After winning 33 seats in the last election, Gantz lost support when he reneged on a campaign promise not to serve in a government with Netanyahu. The party began hemorrhaging as members defected to other parties and the number two on the part list, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, announced he would not run for re-election. Moshe Ya’alon also decided to drop out of the race after running with Blue and White in three elections. He left the party after Gantz joined the coalition with Netanyahu.
At one point it appeared Kahol Lavon might not win any seats, but Gantz rallied support and won eight, finishing fourth. Netanyahu, who won 30 was given the mandate to form a government. This time, Gantz did not agree to join a coalition with the prime minister and Netanyahu lost his chance to form a government. Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid was given the second chance to form a government and Gantz was expected to join him.
Sources: IDF Blog;
Israel Defense Forces;
“Benny Gantz,” Wikipedia
Ruby Mellen, “Who is Benny Gantz? The former military chief could be Israel’s next prime minister,” Washington Post, (September 19, 2019);
Marcy Oster, “Netanyahu and Gantz sign agreement for ‘national emergency government’ that keeps Netanyahu as prime minister for now,” JTA, (April 20, 2020);
Chaim Levinson, “Netanyahu, Gantz Sign Coalition Deal to Form Government,” Haaretz, (April 20, 2020).
Yossi Verter, “The Slow Fraying of Gantz’s Party Has Turned Into a Panicked Flight,” Haaretz, (December 30, 2020).