Back in December, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition decided to dissolve parliament and call new elections, the news inspired a chain reaction of yawns. Despite Netanyahu’s growing legal problems, the overwhelming consensus was that he was headed for another victory, one that would allow him to break the record of Israel’s founder, David Ben Gurion, as the country’s longest-serving prime minister.
To be sure, the election, scheduled for April 9, is still Netanyahu’s to lose, but the inevitability of another victory by Bibi, as he is known, and his rightist Likud party is now in doubt. Voters who dislike Netanyahu but were all but resigned to seeing him win again are suddenly stirring at the rise of an unexpected political rival: Benny Gantz, a retired general who served for four years as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, the country’s highest-ranking military officer.
Gantz entered the race slowly, without fanfare. First, he unveiled a new party, “Israel Resilience,” creating more curiosity than excitement. He remained all but silent, offering few details about his agenda, though his strong security credentials gave him credibility.