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Israeli elections: Who is Benny Gantz, the former general and Netanyahu’s main opponent?

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — It seeks Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival main Benny Gantz Monday to rally supporters on the eve of the elections with betting on the political future of the prime minister, who spent the longest period in office.

Tuesday’s election is the second in Israel in five months, after Netanyahu failed to form a government coalition and perhaps the biggest defeat in his political career.

Since the first legislative elections held in April this year, Gantz has been relentless in his political ambitions. “I thank Benjamin Netanyahu for his services for ten years. We will take over the rest from now on,” he said. Like most of the 19 army chiefs who preceded him in this post, Gantz is running for election and appears determined to take over the country, Netanyahu’s only serious rival.

Although 11 former generals have won seats in the Knesset (parliament) and ten others have held ministerial portfolios, Prime Minister Benny Gantz, 59, remains prime minister. Two former army chiefs of staff, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, were able to fill this position.

Surveys on who qualifies as prime minister indicate that competition between Gantz and Netanyahu, who has held the post since March 2009 for the fourth consecutive term, has intensified after a mandate from 1996 to 1999.

– Prestige military uniform –

Gantz is more used to battlefields than political gatherings. He is a conservative, conscientious and widely respected figure, as the local press classifies him as “centrist.” But far-right and Netanyahu supporters see him as a “far-left” and accuse him of “coldness” and even of “leniency.”

Gantz comes from surviving parents of the Nazi Holocaust, of Roman and Hungarian ancestry. His parents founded an agricultural group in the village of Kafr Ahim, in the coastal plains, 40 km west of Jerusalem. He holds a BA in History from Tel Aviv University, a BA in Political Science from Haifa University, and a BA in National Resource Management from the American Defense University. In 1977 Gantz, whose father was a local Labor Party official, joined the ranks of parachute units and then over the years elevated the Israeli army to the top of his pyramid.

As a result of his career, Gantz has been involved in all the conflicts of the last decades of the country’s history (Lebanon, Intifada, Gaza). After the three-year legacy that followed legally following the end of his service as head of the armed forces (2011-2015), Gantz became the character sought by the various political spectrums, and the prestige of the uniform is very popular in a country that is particularly appreciated by army generals. It is a politically “profitable” card, especially as the election campaign focuses as often on security and military issues.

Penny Gants has four children and says social and economic concerns are among his priorities.

Gantz presents himself in his campaign as an honorable replacement for Netanyahu, who could face charges of corruption in the coming weeks. He has repeatedly spoken of Netanyahu’s desire to form a coalition with far-right parties that could help him seek immunity from prosecution in parliament. Gantz says he and his center-blue coalition are white and want to form a unity government supported by the vast majority of Israelis.

“Under my command, a white blue will change the direction of the ship of the Israeli democratic state,” he wrote in the Maariv newspaper. “There will be no more incitement to disagreements under the slogan ‘divide and rule’ but rather rapid action to form a unity government.” Netanyahu has been criticized in the final days of the campaign for his unfounded warnings that the election could be stolen through fraud at polling stations in Arab villages and towns.

– Gaza returned to the “Stone Age” –

Gantz even sought to appear as stricter than the current prime minister on the security of the Jewish state and the Iranian threat, stressing his concern for the unity of a country dispersed by “divisions” between the right and left and between religious and secular.

He pledged that Israel would maintain responsibility for security east of the Euphrates River, which also means in the occupied West Bank, and that existing settlement units “will be strengthened”. As for Jerusalem, including occupied East Jerusalem, Gantz said it would “forever remain the capital” of Israel. Gantz said his government would “do everything in its power for peace” in the Middle East, while the Israeli-Palestinian peace process remains at zero. “We will not allow the millions of Palestinians living on the other side of the separation wall to threaten our security and our identity as a Jewish state,” Gantz warned.

Before officially launching his first campaign in February, the Gantz electoral team had posted videos on social media sites, some of them humorous in length, and others praising his military achievements in Gaza. He boasted in video footage of the number of Palestinian militants killed and targets destroyed under his leadership in Israel’s 2014 war against Hamas, which runs Gaza. He said that “1364 terrorists” were killed in the occupied sector, which was “returned to the Stone Age.” Human Rights Watch has accused the Jewish state of committing war crimes during the devastating war.

“Vote for me: I am more evil than Netanyahu but I am clean,” Haaretz wrote in a satirical headline, describing the former head of the elite units Sheldag as the candidate of the “outdated right.”

– Where is Lieberman likely? –

Former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, a secularist who entered the race as a rival to Netanyahu, could become kingmaker in his campaign to “make Israel normal again”, targeting the influence of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s choice of a candidate to form the government may depend on Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman prevented Netanyahu from forming a coalition government after the April elections after he refused to give up his demand for military service to the ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Opinion polls show Lieberman gaining popularity because of his campaign against ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, which are an important part of Netanyahu’s planned coalition.

Opinion polls gave the Likud and a blue-and-white alliance some 32 seats, while 10 gave the nationalist party Lieberman Yisrael Beiteinu. Another impasse cannot be ruled out.

It is unclear whether Lieberman will endorse Netanyahu as prime minister again, which may be enough for the Israeli president to ask Gantz to try to form a government.

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