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Former IDF chief Gantz registers new party ahead of April election

L'ancien chef d'Etat-major, Benny Gantz
AFP
Gantz, former defense chief Ya’alon said in 'advanced stages' of talks to run on joint list

After much speculation, former IDF chief-of-staff Benny Gantz on Thursday registered a new political party, "Resilience for Israel", in a first strong signal of his intention to enter politics ahead of Israel's April 9 general elections.

Gantz has emerged as a popular dark horse challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, with polls suggesting that his joining the center-left Zionist Union or centrist Yesh Atid could mount a strong opposition to -- though not surmount -- the Likud lead.

Gantz, who retired in 2015 and had to wait a three-year “cooling off” period before pursuing political office, has not yet made any public statement on his intention to run.

A report by Hadashot television news on Wednesday said that Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon, who also once helmed the IDF and served as defense minister, are reportedly in the "advanced stage" of talks to join forces at the ballot box and form a new centrist political alliance.

The potential alliance reportedly envisages both men as the leaders of their own parties running together on a combined list, with Gantz leading the joint faction.

A report by Channel 10 news said that Gantz will likely bring into the fold Professor Yitshak Kreiss, a former IDF chief medical officer and director of the Sheba Medical Center. Also named as potential Gantz partyfellows were educator and social activist Chilli Tropper and Michael Biton, the mayor of the Negev town of Yeruham.

The first public opinion surveys conducted in the wake of the call for snap elections found Netanyahu with an easy lead over rivals if ballots were cast today, with only a Gantz-Lapid duo presenting a realistic challenger.

The Hadashot report said, however, that Gantz is not interested in cooperating with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Meanwhile, Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay told the channel that reports he had offered Gantz the top spot in his faction were untrue.

GPO / AFP

Former defense minister and Moshe Ya'alon, meanwhile, threw his own hat into the electoral race on Tuesday announcing that he was forming a new party that would appear on the next ballots.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak, who also previously helmed the IDF, has also floated the idea of resurrecting his political career if a center-left bloc emerged to challenge the incumbent Netanyahu.

Meanwhile another challenger, former member of the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party and now Independent MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, emerged after she unveiled her new party 'Gesher' [meaning 'bridge']. During a private conversation, Netanyahu is reported to have warned his Likud party colleagues that "she is part of the left-wing bloc" and is "a danger to the right wing camp."

Netanyahu earlier in the week warned his Likud party in a closed-door session that "nothing is guaranteed" in the upcoming elections and that the party must "fight big time" to ward off challengers and maintain their grip on the government.

Netanyahu has been prime minister for a total of more than 12 years, from 1996 to 1999 and again since 2009. If re-elected, he could next year surpass the record set by Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion, who spent more than 13 years in office.

The upcoming election campaign is sure to be tumultuous, with Netanyahu's opponents likely seeking to erode his reputation as Israel's "Mr. Security."

The premier's electoral appeal has rested in large part on his security credentials, but Israel's center-left opposition has been in disarray and may find it difficult to mount a serious challenge to Netanyahu and his right-wing partners.

AP Photo/Oded Balilty

Ya’alon, a hawkish former IDF chief of staff and former Likud member, has made no secret of his political ambitions.

In 2016, Ya'alon announced his intention to run for the leadership of Israel and last year said that he was forming a new political party that would appear on ballots during the next election -- which at the time were scheduled for November 2019.

Ya'alon resigned from his government role and Israel's parliament in May 2016, blasting what he deemed the "extreme elements" taking over the Likud party and the country.

Netanyahu appointed Avigdor Liberman to replace Ya'alon as defense minister as part of a successful bid to bring in the Yisrael Beitenu party into the government coalition -- seen as the most right-wing in the state's history.

Liberman, in turn, quit Netanyahu’s coalition last month citing irreconcilable differences with the premier’s Gaza policies and pulled his party from the coalition, thrusting the government into turmoil.

Netanyahu has been prime minister for a total of more than 12 years, from 1996 to 1999 and again since 2009.

If re-elected, he could next year surpass the record set by Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion, who spent more than 13 years in office.

Want more? Check out our full Israel Elections 2019 coverage.

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