TEL AVIV, Israel — Retired Israeli military chief Benny Gantz is launching his long-awaited political campaign Tuesday, seeking to position himself as the first serious challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decade-long rule.
Flaunting a tough military pedigree, Gantz’s emergence in the polls as Netanyahu’s top rival highlights how security rules supreme in the minds of most Israeli voters. Straight out of central casting, the tall, telegenic ex-general with salty hair is still untarnished by partisan politics and has been riding a wave of popularity, even while saying little and presenting a vague ideological platform.
But the shine could quickly wear off following Tuesday’s speech, when he is expected to finally lay out his agenda. Netanyahu’s allies are sure to brand Gantz as a “leftist” should he show any signs of moderation.
Even before the speech, Netanyahu supporters were taking aim at Gantz, trying to dig up dirt on his family, questioning his record and taunting his sparse speaking appearances.
“Benny Gantz is silent. I think I know why he is silent. Thousands of officers who served under him also know why he is silent,” said Yoav Galant, a retired general from Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party and a former rival of Gantz’s in the army. “When you have nothing to say, you don’t speak.”
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