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What Does Gadi Eisenkot Want?

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Gadi Eisnkot at an INSS conference at Tel Aviv University, in 2020.
Gadi Eisnkot at an INSS conference at Tel Aviv University, in 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

The Gadi Eisenkot question has gripped the Anyone But-Bibi bloc as it racks its brains over how to keep Benjamin Netanyahu from winning the support of 61 Knesset members after the November 1 election – which the right is very optimistic about. A thornier problem engaging the bloc is how to produce a possible 61 MKs of its own.

Eisenkot, according to people involved in opinion polls on the matter, contributes little to the shift from the Netanyahu bloc to its opposite number and more to movement within the bloc, subject to adopting the alternatives that are on his desk. That said, there’s no disputing that he would be a prestigious addition of power to any player who can add him to their team, if and when. According to sources, Eisenkot is expected to announce his decision in the next two to three weeks.

It’s too early to make predictions about those who have not yet dipped a toe in the polluted political river, but ironically, what some call a model of detachment and lack of political understanding actually indicates some good characteristics. Eisenkot insists on talking to all of the people negotiating with him about the Palestinian problem and the urgent need to solve it – an issue that sounds almost surreal at a time when the Netanyahu question peels away the skin of sanity from Israeli society and sends it to more and more elections.

There is a reasonable basis to believe that what we have here is not another retired general babbling boilerplate about strength, healing and unity, but rather a person who gets to the core. Despite the tendency to consider him a political naif, Eisenkot has proved that he can get along with the most cunning foxes in the vineyard: He was the military secretary of prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, and as IDF chief of staff he dealt with Netanyahu as prime minister and Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister.

According to people who know his thinking, the ideal option for entering politics from his perspective is a large party that would unite Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Merav Michaeli and their respective movements into a strong party of government against Likud. However, since such a possibility is not visible on the horizon, he is left with two concrete alternatives. The first is to be No. 2 in Lapid’s Yesh Atid, a party that has sufficient MKs to be a ruling party – something of great importance to Eisenkot, who according to insiders viewed Naftali Bennett’s being prime minister, despite leading a shrunken and leaky parliamentary group, as deceit and thievery.

Eisenkot’s problem with Lapid, according to the same insiders, has two elements that make a whole: They judge, gently, that he does not greatly esteem Lapid and believes that, with his boycotts and his vetoes, the acting prime minister will also be unable to form a government after the election.

Confidants say Eisenkot “feels more comfortable” with Gantz, who is the second option. Eisenkot’s fundamental position is that “a person who has been charged with crimes isn’t fit to serve as head of a tenants’ committee,” but given Israel’s exigencies and current law, Eisenkot may accept the possibility of a government with Netanyahu – with Gantz serving as prime minister first. The problem in this case, as he sees it, is that a prime minister with a parliamentary group of 11, 12 or 13 MKs has no legitimacy, which not only will not solve the political chaos, it will exacerbate it, all the way to additional elections.

Which leads to the scenario that at least for now seems the most likely: Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot will not enter the political arena, at least not now, and will wait, like any person seeking normality in this country, until the Netanyahu logjam is released. The decision does not necessarily indicate cowardice or chronic hesitancy. Rather, it says something about the man: Eisenkot has not truly been bitten by the political bug, and furthermore he simply isn’t suited to the current political map, in which the trench warfare against Netanyahu is not only the most important thing but also leaves no room for any additional ideology. To a certain extent, Eisenkot’s paralysis is a metaphor for the situation into which Israel has been lured.

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