For the first time since the war began, the Likud Knesset faction met on Sunday with two of its members missing: Economy Minister Nir Barkat and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Gallant’s absence came one day after he had avoided Prime Minister Netanyahu’s press conference Saturday night and spoke to reporters separately.
Channel 14 cited a senior Likud official who said the defense minister’s absence from the Likud faction meeting indicates he has given up on the attempt to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu within the party, and sees his political future outside Likud the day after the war.
In late March, Netanyahu summoned Gallant to his office and told him, “I have lost my faith in you.” The dismissal was in response to Gallant’s public appearance while the PM was on state business abroad, when the DM announced his opposition to the judicial reform. Gallant’s sacking was followed by a week of mass protests across the country which forced Netanyahu to reverse his decision. It wasn’t a proud moment for the PM, who will live to regret it. It was also not a moment Gallant is likely to forget or forgive.
Barkat’s office did not offer an explanation as to his absence from the faction meeting. Gallant’s office blamed the security situation, which, obviously, did not explain the minister’s separate meeting with the press.
At the meeting, Minister David Amsalem attacked the hostage families’ demonstrations against Netanyahu and suggested “there is someone here who is running this whole campaign against the prime minister, and there are demonstrations outside. It’s inconceivable.”
Amsalem also said that “if the government falls, the left will rise and there will be a Palestinian state here! These (the Israeli left) are Bolsheviks who don’t see from one yard away.”
Later, MK Nissim Vaturi, referring to Ministers Benny Gantz and Gallant’s absence from the press conference Saturday night, told Netanyahu, “You were better off alone at the briefing yesterday than with those two who kiss each other on the mouth.”
It was that kind of a faction meeting.
THE ODD COUPLE
Israel Hayom reported that Gallant is irate at Netanyahu’s habit of intruding his domain, the Kirya compound in downtown Tel Aviv, where the PM takes over whole offices for consultations, disregarding his DM’s authority there. Gallant is also reportedly irritated by Netanyahu’s chronic tardiness, forcing large group of generals and security experts to sit and wait for him, sometimes for hours. In response, Gallant has taken to being tardy in retaliation, arriving a few minutes late at meetings that are run by the PM.
Their petty rivalry escalated to new heights during the ceasefire in Gaza last week, when the Prime Minister’s Office tried to arrange for Netanyahu a visit with the soldiers inside the Gaza Strip. Time and time again, the PM’s people were told that there was no approval from the defense minister for these meetings, intended to reflect Bibi’s rapport with the men on the ground. Many reasons were given, as each time Gallant successfully denied the PM his photo ops.
But then, on November 25, Bibi’s staff was treated to images of Gallant emerging from a navy boat to shake hands with the men on shore in Gaza. The next day, the PM rode into the Strip accompanied by a gaggle of reporters without his DM’s approval.
Finally, there’s a very good reason why Gallant no longer wishes to stand next to Netanyahu in those press conferences: Gallant’s stoic military demeanor contrasts sharply with Netanyahu’s charismatic performance. A military man to the core, Gallant’s style is dry and stilted. He never smiles, and he certainly doesn’t flirt with reporters. As a result, every one of the press conferences with Bibi, Gallant, and Gantz, has invariably ended with the press addressing their questions to the PM: they try to trip him, occasionally shame and rebuke him, but it’s him they want, and Bibi always provides the goods, in juicy, entertaining, and highly quotable packages.
The discord between Netanyahu and Gallant raises questions about the future dynamics within Likud and its impact on Israel’s political landscape. In the end, in line with Minister Amsalem’s prophesy, should Gallant join Gantz’s growing opposition party in the next election, he could become a substantial vote magnet across party lines, especially if he is associated in the publuic’s mind with the victory over Hamas.