Gantz Says Door Is 'Closed, Not Locked' for Sitting in Netanyahu Government

Contrary to past statements, Benny Gantz is heard in recording saying he would also form a coalition with ultra-Orthodox parties if need be

Benny Gantz at the Kahol Lavan press conference March 18, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan ticket isn’t ruling out the option of sitting in a government with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, according to recordings of internal Kahol Lavan discussions released by Channel 13 news Monday night.

Gantz had previously said he wouldn’t join a Netanyahu government. But on the tapes, he qualified this statement, saying he had deliberately chosen “the words ‘in the situation that has been created’ so as not to close the door all the way and lock it. It will be closed, but not locked."

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“As we’ve seen, life is dynamic, the situation can change,” he continued. “Trump will unveil his [peace] plan, I will win, Trump will unveil his plan. Good, so now what?” the former army chief of staff is heard saying.

He also said he would sit with the ultra-Orthodox parties if he needed them to form a government.

Charging that Netanyahu “has simply sold out the country” and, if reelected, would pass a law to ensure that he couldn’t be indicted while in office, Gantz continued, “So am I now going to be apathetic to this situation and not sell my soul and not form a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox? I’m sending you a blank sheet of paper, signed at the bottom ‘Benny Gantz.’ Two thirds of the page is yours; fill it out below with whatever you want. Leave me one-third, I’ll fill it with what I want.”

Earlier Monday, at a press conference together with other members of Kahol Lavan, Gantz called for establishing a state commission of inquiry into whether Netanyahu was involved in – and profited from - corruption related to Israel’s purchase of submarines from Germany. Although police found enough information to indict figures connected to Netanyahu, including his personal lawyer, Netanyahu himself was never a suspect.  

Terming the submarine case “the worst corruption case in Israel’s history,” Gantz added, “Sixteen million shekels [$4.4 million] went into Netanyahu’s pocket from a company directly connected to the submarine deal. This creates a complete loss of faith in his leadership. It’s a wound that can’t be healed.

“This week, it was also revealed that the prime minister approved the sale of advanced submarines to Egypt behind the defense establishment’s back, without any of the authorized parties in the defense establishment knowing about it,” he continued. “Netanyahu denied this and lied.”

Moshe Ya’alon, who served as defense minister under Netanyahu, including while these events were taking place, is now running on Kahol Lavan's ticket. At the press conference, he said that the former head of the Defense Ministry’s diplomacy and security unit, Amos Gilad, had confirmed to him that Netanyahu personally approved the purchase of additional submarines from Germany.

“Israel needs submarines; there’s no dispute about that,” Ya’alon said. Nevertheless, he added, all the relevant defense officials had concluded that it doesn’t need more than five.

“I have no doubt that this is the worst corruption scandal in the state’s history, in which greed was given priority over national security,” he continued, adding that Netanyahu “owes answers to these questions to Israel’s citizens and soldiers.”

Gabi Ashkenazi, who preceded Gantz as Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and is now also running as part of Kahol Lavan, said that during his term as chief of staff, he was ordered to buy a sixth submarine.

“It wasn’t clear to me then whence this order came, or why,” he said. “We didn’t know then that the prime minister was involved and held shares in a company that does business with the German shipyard.”

Ashkenazi also addressed Netanyahu directly, saying that by approving the sale of submarines to Egypt behind the defense establishment’s back, “you undermined the IDF’s qualitative advantage in the Red Sea. I urge you to meet with us and answer the questions that have arisen here.

“Those who didn’t investigate the sixth submarine received a ninth,” he added.

Earlier on Monday, at a Likud event in Jerusalem, Netanyahu assailed Gantz and Kahol Lavan over what he termed their “wild attacks on the Mossad, the Shin Bet security service and me.” He was referring to Kahol Lavan’s demands for an investigation into the source of the leak that Gantz's cellphone had been hacked by Iran, and whether it was the Prime Minister's Office.

“If Gantz isn’t capable of protecting his telephone, how will he protect our country?” Netanyahu asked.

He also attacked Gantz and Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is running as part of Kahol Lavan this election, charging that they supported the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Netanyahu claimed that they “don’t understand what neighborhood we’re living in, what type of regime we’re dealing with.”

Gantz responded to Netanyahu at his conference later that day, noting that he has previously said there was no security-related information on the phone, and nothing that would leave him vulnerable to extortion.

“I will manage my personal business on my own,” he added. “There’s no security risk either to me or to Israel, other than the exposure of intelligence sources due to the very fact that this affair is being discussed.”

Following the press conference, Likud said, “Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t receive a single shekel from the submarine deal. Just a year ago, Gantz himself said he was convinced there was no corruption in the purchase of the submarines. Now Lapid and Gantz are panicked over Gantz’s failure, so they’re promoting a blood libel meant to divert attention from the huge embarrassment of Gantz not even being able to protect his telephone. The public isn’t buying their nonsense.”