The Spin Room Panel: Benny Gantz and Challenges to the Right THE SPIN ROOM | Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz is second in the polls behind Netanyahu's governing Likud party. But the popular Gantz has not ...
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With April's elections looming, Benjamin Netanyahu has good reason to fear Benny Gantz, his former army chief. Gantz has launched a new party, named Israeli Resilience, just as the net of corruption indictments is closing around the prime minister.
Already, at this early stage of campaigning, some 31 per cent of the Israeli public prefer Gantz to head the next government over Netanyahu, who is only months away from becoming the longest-serving leader in Israel's history.
Gantz is being feted as the new hope, a chance to change direction after a series of governments under Netanyahu's leadership have over the past decade shifted Israel ever further to the right.
Like Israel's former politician generals, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Gantz is being portrayed and portraying himself as a battle-hardened warrior, able to make peace from a position of strength.
Before he had issued a single policy statement, polls showed him winning 15 of the 120 parliamentary seats, a welcome sign for those hoping that a centre-left coalition can triumph this time.
But the reality of what Gantz stands for revealed this week in his first election videos is far from reassuring.
In 2014, he led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly.
By the end, one of the most densely populated areas on earth its two million inhabitants already trapped by a lengthy Israeli blockade lay in ruins. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught, a quarter of them children, while tens of thousands were left homeless.
The world watched, appalled. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International concluded that Israel had committed war crimes.
One might have assumed that during the election campaign Gantz would wish to draw a veil over this troubling period in his military career. Not a bit of it.
One of his campaign videos soars over the rubble of Gaza, proudly declaring that Gantz was responsible for destroying many thousands of buildings. "Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age," the video boasts.
This is a reference to the Dahiya doctrine, a strategy devised by the Israeli military command of which Gantz was a core member. The aim is to lay waste to the modern infrastructure of Israel's neighbours, forcing survivors to eke out a bare existence rather than resist Israel.
The collective punishment inherent in the apocalyptic Dahiya doctrine is an undoubted war crime.
More particularly, the video exults in the destruction of Rafah, a city in Gaza that suffered the most intense bout of bombing after an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas. In minutes, Israel's indiscriminate bombardment killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians and wrecked a hospital.
According to investigations, Israel had invoked the Hannibal Procedure, the code name for an order allowing the army to use any means to stop one of its soldiers being taken. That includes killing civilians as "collateral damage" and, more controversially for Israelis, the soldier himself.