Swearing-in ceremony of Gadi Eizenkot as IDF Chief of Staff in 2015. (Photo by Avi Ohayon. CC National Photo Collection)

Remember the name Gadi Eizenkot – he could become Israel’s next Prime Minister. At the moment, Israel’s Knesset has passed the first of three required votes calling for another early election (it would be an incredible fourth election within just two years). This after Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Likud and Defence Minister Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party parted company following six months of political wrangling. 

The truth is that Bibi has run rings around Benny, who has dropped drastically in the opinion polls. He is simply not in Netanyahu’s league, and Bibi has no intention of honoring their agreement to let Gantz replace him as Prime Minister (as part of their rotation deal). How could it be otherwise if Bibi has cynically declared, “Gantz would pose a danger to Israel if he became Prime Minister”? The last straw was Netanyahu’s refusal to present a new state budget linked to their rotation scheme. But, who knows? Maybe Gantz will back down if Netanyahu offers an 11th-hour proposal. 

It gets worse – the polls indicate that Gantz, rather than running neck-and-neck with Netanyahu, would be nearly wiped off the political map in a snap election. The projections are that Bibi is still the running “number one” despite his failure to cope with COVID-19 – his Likud party would slip to only 31 seats in the 120-member Knesset. 

Serving PM Netanyahu leads in the political polls. Photo byHaim Zach CC National Photo Collection)

At present, Naftali Bennett in the far-Right settlement camp is slowly closing in even though the Trump plan has ruled out the possibility of Israel annexing the West Bank, and the recent US election of Democrat Joe Biden further negates such a possibility. Moreover, the new peace pacts with the Gulf states and Sudan are based on no Israeli annexation of the West Bank. But, for some reason, these developments have not been fully appreciated by the settlement supporters in Israel.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters continue to demonstrate outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence every Saturday night. They appear to be deeply annoyed and frustrated because no credible challenger has emerged to defeat Netanyahu in an election. Until now, that is. 

Enter Eizenkot?

Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot may be about to throw his hat into the ring. Very recently, I heard Eizenkot carefully analyze Israel’s problems and solutions. My impression was that he is a soft-spoken, plain-speaking man with no rhetorical gimmicks. In response to questions of the hour, Eizenkot presented an impressive analysis of Israeli issues and also provided solutions. He reminded me somewhat of the late Yitzhak Rabin when he spoke of the need to separate from the West Bank and the Palestinians while maintaining control over the Jordan Valley Basin as a necessity for Israel’s security. Eizenkot criticized the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the failure to mobilize the IDF’s Homefront Command to enforce restrictions and provide medical services. 

Israel’s Minister of Defense and former Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon (Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

To sum up, “If he talks like a candidate and looks like a candidate, he will likely be a candidate.” There have been rumors that Eizenkot may team up with another former IDF Chief of Staff, Gen. Moshe Yaalon, in forming a new Centrist party. In any case, it is fair to say that most people who have heard Eizenkot speak recently have been deeply impressed – yours truly included. Eizenkot holds a BA in history from Tel Aviv University and an MSS from the United States War College. 

Moroccan Background …

Moreover, and this is a big political asset, Gadi Eizenkot is the son of Moroccan immigrants. Although Morrocan citizens comprise a considerable number of voters, there has never been a Mizrachi Prime Minister. It is very likely that Eizenkot could persuade many Israeli Moroccan voters, who usually support Netanyahu and the Likud parter, to vote for him if he does enter the election race. 

So, what is the possibility of another early election?

To his credit, Netanyahu has personally supervised the shipment of several million doses of the COVID vaccine from Moderna. They are expected to arrive in early January and obviously will be a feather in Bibi’s cap. This could impact Netanyahu’s decision whether or not to go for an early election in the very near future or to wait for some months until the hard-hit economy gets back on its feet and voters will be in a far better mood than they are today. But, until an actual election date has been decided upon, Eizenkot would be wise not to throw his hat into the ring prematurely, as it would make him an obvious political target for the “slings and arrows” of a formidable Netanyahu.

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