Israel's Gantz: political novice trying to oust Netanyahu

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Former armed forces chief Benny Gantz has a shot at ending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's record-breaking term in office, but still faces a tough battle to capture the premiership.

Netanyahu announced on Monday evening he could not form a new government following a deadlocked September election, making way for Gantz to try.

But although Gantz's centrist Blue and White alliance won 33 seats in parliament, one more than Netanyahu's Likud, he has not so far secured the support of the majority of the 120 lawmakers needed to form a stable coalition.

Gantz, a 60-year-old former paratrooper, had no previous political experience when he declared himself Netanyahu's electoral rival in December.

Blue and White and Likud each won 35 seats in an April election, but Netanyahu was given the first chance to try to form a majority coalition.

He failed and rather than leaving Gantz to have a go, he opted for a snap second election, held on September 17, despite facing potential indictment for corruption.

This time around Blue and White inched ahead of Likud, but neither has a clear path to a majority coalition.

"Gantz managed to do what much more experienced politicians than him... all failed to accomplish over the years," analyst Yossi Verter wrote Tuesday in Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

But he said that Gantz's chances of succeeding where veteran political operator Netanyahu had failed were slim.

"The election results are familiar to all, and no fairy can appear and magically move blocks around so that they add up to a governing majority," Verter wrote.

Gantz presents himself as someone who can heal divisions in Israeli society, which he says have been exacerbated by Netanyahu.

- Security hawk, social liberal -

Gantz was born on June 9, 1959, in Kfar Ahim, a southern Israeli village that his immigrant parents, both Holocaust survivors, helped to establish.

He joined the army in 1977, completing the tough selection course for paratroopers.

He went on to command Shaldag, an air force special operations unit. In 1994, he returned to the army to command a brigade and then a division in the occupied West Bank.

According to his official army biography, he was Israel's military attache to the United States from 2005 until 2009.

He was chief of staff from 2011 to 2015, when he retired, and has boasted in video clips of the number of Palestinian militants killed and targets destroyed under his command in the 2014 war with Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers.

Gantz has a BA in history from Tel Aviv University, a master's degree in political science from Haifa University and a master's in national resource management from the National Defence University in the United States.

He is married and a father of four.

A security hawk, he is determined -- like Netanyahu -- to keep the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank under Israeli control and to maintain Israeli sovereignty over annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

The two are also in step on external threats, such as archfoe Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Gantz has pledged to improve public services and show "zero tolerance" for corruption -- a reference to graft allegations facing Netanyahu.

Regarding the Palestinians, the Blue and White election manifesto speaks of wanting to separate from them, but does not specifically mention a two-state solution.

Gantz is liberal on social issues related to religion and the state, favouring the introduction of civil marriage.