Sacked Israeli defense chief may apologize as Netanyahu meets replacements

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is ready to apologize to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his speech on live television on Saturday, which broke with his boss and called for the government’s planned judicial reform to be suspended .

Gallant, the Israeli broadcaster KAN, reported that he is willing to apologize for opposing Netanyahu while the latter was in London, and rejecting the judicial reform plan. The plan would undermine Israel’s High Court and extend more power to elected leaders over the judicial system.

Gallant’s dissent set off a series of dramatic events, and Netanyahu fired him one day later, when opponents of the judicial overhaul took to the streets, protesting the plan and shot the defense chief. Washington has also pressured Netanyahu to halt the legislative process, and US officials maintain good relations with Gallant. Facing unprecedented pressure within Israel and also from abroad, Netanyahu finally caved in on Monday, putting judicial reform on hold until the summer.

As for Gallant, by Thursday morning the minister had not received a formal letter from Netanyahu announcing his dismissal. On the other hand, Netanyahu has not given up on his decision to send him back. Reports on KAN and Ynet news show that Netanyahu met in the last few days with two ministers who could replace the Minister of Defense.

Netanyahu interviewing candidates

The first possible candidate to replace Gallant is Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, who previously served as Shin Bet chief executive. With the most security experience among Likud parliamentarians, Dichter is seen as an obvious choice for the job. The second candidate is Economy Minister Nir Barkat, a high-tech entrepreneur who was formerly the mayor of Jerusalem. As a popular figure in the Likud, Barkat had hoped for a larger ministerial portfolio after the November 1 elections, namely the Ministry of Finance. In the end, the Ministry of Finance was given to the chief executive of the Religious Zionist party Bezalel Smotrich as part of the coalition agreements.

Israeli media reported in the last few days that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, is trying to find a compromise that would keep Gallant in his job. One possibility is to apologize to Gallant, as mentioned. Another possibility is for Gallant to resign as a member of Knesset, keeping his post as defense minister only.

Many in Israel considered Netanyahu’s decision to kill Gallant to be rash and decisive. In his address against the judicial overhaul, Gallant expressed concern that the growing rift within Israeli society – particularly the refusal of many army officers and pilots to stand for reserve duty – could harm Israel’s security. After he became a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces, many Israelis took his words to heart. In addition, Israelis did not understand why Netanyahu chose to fire his defense minister during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a period considered to be a very volatile period from a security point of view in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Another cause for concern was Israel’s relationship with the United States. It’s no secret that Washington views Gallant as its preferred mediator within Netanyahu’s far-right/ultra-Orthodox government. Therefore, Gallant’s firing could damage Jerusalem’s ties to the White House. Such reasoning puts Barkat in a better position to replace Gallant than Dichter. The economy minister is well known in Washington, and has good connections with senior administration officials and top American financial figures. That said, the tension between Netanyahu and President Joe Biden has increased significantly over the past two days. Gallant’s insistence on taking a shot at Netanyahu could further damage his relationship with the White House.

The Leader of the National Unity opposition party Benny Gantz asked Netanyahu on Thursday to keep Gallant in his job, for the sake of Israel’s security. Gantz, who was in this position himself, asked all members of the coalition government to reject any such offer from Netanyahu to take up this position.

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