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The Gantz Megillah

How America is using ex-IDF Chief Benny Gantz as its Trojan horse to impose U.S. demands—and ensure Israel’s defeat in Gaza

Gadi Taub
May 08, 2024
Herzl’s Children
Gadi Taub reports on the two ongoing wars that will shape Israel's future: the military and diplomatic conflict between Israel and her enemies, and the struggle between Israel's Western-oriented elites and her democratic institutions.
See all in Herzl’s Children →︎
Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz arrives at the U.S. State Department in Washington ahead of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 5, 2024

DREW ANGERER/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz arrives at the U.S. State Department in Washington ahead of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 5, 2024

DREW ANGERER/AFP via Getty Images

In the eyes of the Biden administration Hamas is the smaller problem. The bigger problem is Benjamin Netanyahu. The U.S. is willing to live with Iran’s proxies everywhere, as part of its “regional integration” policy—i.e., appeasing Iran. But they are unwilling to live with Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. The stubborn Netanyahu clearly does not want to learn from his would-be tutors like U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken how to “share the neighborhood” with genocidaires in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, Lebanon, and Tehran, whom his electorate understands to be bent on murdering them.

If the Netanyahu problem is too big to contain, then it follows that it must be solved. And it seems that the Biden administration has zeroed in on what Tony Badran has called a Herodian solution: finding a local proxy who will impose the U.S. agenda on a reluctant Israeli electorate.

King Herod the Great won his throne because the Roman Empire stepped in and helped him defeat his Israelite adversaries. The American empire wants to help install Benny Gantz as Israel’s next prime minister for the same reason: The plan is for the administration to help him defeat Netanyahu, then for him to assemble a dovish coalition that will return Israel to the two-state track negotiations—which, though unlikely to produce two states, would nevertheless help “de-escalate” in Gaza, the last hot spot in the region where Iran’s power is actually challenged.

Since the whole Democratic Party’s Middle East policy is at stake, the pressure on Israel has been relentless. Never before has an American administration worked so systematically to undermine Israeli democracy and sovereignty, an effort that is especially shocking in the context of an existential war for survival following a heinous, large-scale terrorist murder spree. Wars provide opportunities, and it seems clear that the opportunity that the Biden administration saw in the Oct. 7 attacks had less to do with ensuring Israel’s security than it did with stifling any remaining resistance to Washington’s pro-Iran regional integration policy.

If it is to survive at all, Israel must break the noose that Iran is assembling around us, and which the Biden administration is actively promoting and protecting.

The U.S. is holding Israel on a leash by rationing the American-made ammunition on which the war effort depends; it has forced us to supply our enemies with “humanitarian aid” which Hamas controls and which sustains its ability to fight; the U.S. is building a port to subvert our control of the flow of goods into Gaza; it refrained from vetoing an anti-Israel decision at the U.N. Security Council at the end of March; it leaked its intention to recognize a Palestinian state unilaterally; it allowed Iran to attack us directly with a barrage of over 300 rockets and drones without paying any price whatsoever; and then told us that Israel’s successful defense against that strike (which was mostly stopped by a combination of superior Israeli tech and faulty Iranian missiles that crashed all over the Middle East, and to some extent by U.S. interceptors) should be considered “victory”; it consistently protects Hezbollah from a full-fledged Israeli attack; it did all it can to prevent the ground invasion of Rafah, which is necessary for winning the war; it is trying to stop the war with a hostage deal that would ensure Hamas’ survival.

The U.S. is not protecting Israel from the kangaroo courts in The Hague which now threaten to issue arrest warrants against Netanyahu and others. Instead, it is goosing those warrants, in part by itself threatening to impose sanctions on a unit of the IDF, thus subverting the chain of command and pressuring IDF units to comply with American demands rather than with orders from their superiors. At one point, Secretary of State Blinken outrageously asked for a one-on-one meeting with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi (he was refused), treating the commander of Israel’s armed forces as if he was answerable to a delegate of a foreign power.

Meanwhile, the entire Democratic Party apparatus from Joe Biden on down has continued directly attacking Netanyahu in the harshest, most personal and demeaning terms, publicly proclaiming their contempt for Israel’s wartime leader. Biden called Israel’s elected prime minister “a bad fucking guy,” while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer went so far as to explain to Israelis they made the wrong choice in their elections. Senior Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler went Schumer one step better, proclaiming Netanyahu to be the worst Jewish leader in “2,000 years”—i.e., in the period since Herod.

The White House appears to be pushing prominent Jewish Democrats to attack Israel’s prime minister in order to avoid charges of being “anti-Israel” or “antisemitic”—a charge that could damage Democrats in key states like Florida, Arizona, and Michigan as Jewish voters see their children pushed off campuses by a combination of anti-Jewish DEI bureaucrats and pro-Hamas mobs. But it’s not hard to see through this ploy. In fact, the White House has its own proxy mobs of demonstrators inside Israel, which it regularly encourages to take to the streets at key moments. According to the leaders of the Never-Bibi demonstrators, the White House is in constant touch with them for coordination.

What all of these shockingly openly subversive moves against a key U.S. military ally have so far not produced is the desired result—a subservient government run by the would-be King Benny. The American candidate for the Herodian role kept straying from the script (which is reportedly why he was summoned to Washington to be reprimanded).

There were reasons for his straying, though. Whenever the attack on Israel’s sovereignty, democracy, or even on Netanyahu personally, became too blunt, Gantz who understands his electorate well enough, rallied to defend Israel’s sovereignty and our right to choose our own government. This is not because Gantz has given up on replacing Netanyahu: It’s just that he knows he cannot win an election in Israel by appearing to join the U.S. in attacking Israel’s most vital interests or in undermining our independence. Most importantly, any attempt to topple Netanyahu in the name of imposing a two-state solution is bound to backfire, especially with the post-Oct. 7 Israeli electorate.

Now, however, it seems that Washington and its would-be Herodian candidate are finally on the same page. This may be because the administration learned how to drape its attacks in the clothes of Israel’s interest: Emphasize “Saudi normalization” and “international coalition,” downplay “two-state solution,” stress “saving the hostages,” tone down talk of ending the war, and so on. Or it may be that Gantz has received assurances from the U.S. that it will turn its maximum pressure campaign against Netanyahu all the way up, by facilitating the delivery of ICC indictments. Whatever the reason, Gantz has finally thrown down the gauntlet.

Gantz announced his open challenge to Netanyahu in a strained, grammatically tortured tweet burdened by the need to pretend that his new position is not a betrayal of his old one. It is a jumble of contradictions revolving like space debris around a dying star. It reads:

The incursion into Rafah is important in the long struggle against Hamas. Returning our hostages, who were abandoned by the government of October 7, is of far greater importance. If a responsible deal for the return of our hostages, with the backing of the whole security establishment, and not conditioned on ending the war, will be prevented by the ministers who led the government on October 7, then the government would no longer have the right to continue to exist and direct the war.

The gist of it is not hard to decipher: Let’s end the war but call it something else. Otherwise, we’ll topple Netanyahu. But the packaging is no less instructive. First Gantz accepts the terminology of the permanent Never-Bibi protest, which keeps blaming this government for having “abandoned” us on that terrible Shabbat. Gantz further emphasizes that the responsibility lies solely with Netanyahu and his government of Oct. 7—that is before Gantz and his party joined the coalition.

That’s precious, because Gantz himself was an active party to, and in important cases the main author of, the misconceptions that led to the failure of Israel’s defenses on Oct. 7. He was deputy IDF chief of staff, IDF chief of staff, minister of security, and also “alternate prime minister” with Netanyahu.

As chief of staff, Gantz drastically cut the IDF’s ground forces in line with the vision of “a small technological army” based on the false assumption that large-scale ground wars are a thing of the past. He was the highest-ranking member of a security establishment that pushed their belief that Hamas could be pacified by allowing in Qatari money and letting Gazans work inside Israel. As minister of security, Gantz oversaw the inauguration of the high-tech security barrier on the Gaza boarder, which he assured the West Negev residents will protect them from Hamas and allow them to flourish, and that, he said, will be “our great victory” over the terrorists. So confident was Gantz in the effectiveness of the high-tech barrier that he ordered disarming civil defense squads in small villages and kibbutzim in the Negev due to repeated theft of assault firearms. We know what that led to. The places that disregarded Gantz’s orders and retained their weapons were able to hold out longer and save many more lives.

But Gantz’s tweet was more than an exercise in self-absolution for people with short memories. He also inched toward adopting the reframing of Israel’s war aims so as to make returning the hostages Israel’s foremost goal, even at the price of defeat in the war. Returning the hostages is “of far greater importance” than invading Rafah now, he proclaimed, offering the fig leaf that Rafah can be invaded at some other point in time, “in the long struggle against Hamas.”

Lastly, Gantz created a dichotomy between “the whole security establishment,” which endorses a deal, and the “ministers who led the government on October 7,” who are against it. The security establishment is presumably rational and professional, and the “ministers who led the government on October 7”—including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, it seems—are a bunch of heartless right-wing amateurs. Except, of course, the job of the security establishment is to be in charge of security. After Oct. 7, the massive failure of 20 years of security establishment doctrine is fully out in the open. Unsurprisingly, Gantz’s tweet received a very uncomfortable ratio of comments to likes.

Still, Tony Blinken had reason to be satisfied. At long last, Gantz seems willing to play the role the administration has assigned him: exploiting the rift in Israel’s society by unequivocally taking the side of the small but powerful Never-Bibi faction, in a bid to replace Netanyahu at the helm.

Tony Badran wrote “The New Herodians” back in the days of the struggle over the reform of the judiciary. Netanyahu was already a thorn in the side of Biden’s “regional integration” policy, since he insisted that Iran’s drive to attain nuclear weapons must be stopped by any means necessary. The Biden administration pretended to care about judicial reform, but, as the Democrats’ critique of the Dobbs decision by the U.S. Supreme Court clearly suggests, it is not because they are for all-powerful judiciaries. The issue was always Netanyahu.

What Badran argued about the American intervention back then is doubly true now that the interventions are so much more crude. But his argument was not just a critique of American hypocrisy and anti-democratic tactics. The comparison with Herod was meant to teach a lesson about the price Judea paid for Herod’s strategy. The alliance with the Roman giant ensured Herod’s victory over his Jewish rivals in internal Judean politics, but the cost was the loss of Jewish independence altogether.

Herod gained power and prestige, and his family became intimate with Rome’s rulers—but none of that saved Israel. Instead, the Herodian policy eventually turned the land of Israel into a province of the empire under direct Roman rule. Judea’s loss of independence from Rome led in turn to the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile for two millennia for most of the Jewish people, leading to a situation of existential powerlessness in the face of expulsions and pogroms which culminated, within living memory, in the Holocaust. So how did the Herodian strategy turn out for the Jews? Not well.

Can such a nightmare return? Yes, it can. It is not at all clear that Israel can survive four more years of a Democratic administration determined to carve out a Palestinian terror state in the heart of the land of Israel, as part of an “integrated”—that is, Iran-dominated—Middle East. If it is to survive at all, Israel must break the noose that Iran is assembling around us, and which the Biden administration is actively promoting and protecting. Once Iran actually gets nuclear weapons, the danger will increase exponentially.

But it is also not clear that the attempt to install Benny Gantz at the head of a dovish coalition, subservient to the administration, can actually work.

True, the U.S. has a lot to work with. Israel’s progressive elites are small but formidable, as they have demonstrated in defeating an elected government in the struggle over judicial reform. And that elite still believes in a two-state solution and is very much on board with the American plan to impose it against the majority’s will. Israel’s left long ago gave up on persuading the electorate to support the creation of a Palestinian state, and is entirely comfortable with the use of extra-democratic means to impose its desired solutions on its domestic foes. Like the Hellenized elites of Herod’s day, it sees imperial domination as a way to support its own idea of Jewishness allied with power against the retrograde elements in its midst.

Gantz’s tweet underscores that the elite power base, which is entrenched in the upper echelons of the military and security establishment, supports the cease-fire plan. This group already exercises great influence on the way the war is waged. It has worked to undermine the possibility of Israeli long-term control of the Gaza strip and has dragged its feet against Netanyahu’s promise to enter Rafah. Then there is also the almost unanimous support of the press, whose major role here has been to demonize anyone who opposes surrender to Hamas via a hostage deal as heartless. There is also our all-powerful Supreme Court and highly politicized law enforcement agencies, and finally, the business community and especially its high-tech sector whose entrepreneurs tend to lean to globalist views and are funding the ubiquitous billboard campaign that blames Netanyahu for everything (and no one else for anything).

But there is also one deep flaw in the plan to impose the American policy via an alliance of elites under the figurehead of Gantz. Gantz’s popularity rests on ambiguity, which is why he persistently declined to answer questions about his views on the question of a Palestinian state. His only path to victory is by striking a hawkish security pose, and remaining vague about two-state negotiations. That’s because the hawkish majority in Israel has only grown after Oct. 7.

This majority will be furious with Netanyahu if he does not deliver victory. But to capture the disaffected vote, you can’t offer defeat, let alone a nonexistent two-state solution. There are still some 100,000 evacuees who cannot return home to the western Negev or to the north near the border with Hezbollah in Lebanon. No hostage deal will convince them they will now be safe. Moreover, Israelis saw what a determined band of terrorists can do from tiny Gaza. They will not easily opt for a government willing to give the much better armed and trained terrorist Palestinian Authority a chance to do the same from the far bigger area of Judea and Samaria, perched above Israel’s vulnerable coastal plain.

While King Herod’s power relied on making his ties with the all-powerful Rome as conspicuous as possible, rubbing shoulders with the would-be rescuers of Hamas is bound to be a liability for Gantz with his potential voters. And once the U.S. recognizes a Palestinian state, as is rumored to happen this summer, Gantz’s electoral intrigues will become a historical footnote—while the U.S. campaign against its Middle Eastern ally continues.

Gadi Taub is an author, historian, and op-ed columnist. He is co-host of Tablet’s Israel Update podcast.