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NEWS ANALYSIS

Netanyahu was right to finally reinstate Defense Minister Gallant

The mistake was firing Gallant in the first place

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands at a pre-Passover toast, Apr. 4, 2023. (Photo: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – On Monday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation on live television from the headquarters of the Israeli Defense Forces in Tel Aviv.

His top priority was explaining to Israelis the aggressive steps that the military and intelligence services are taking to crush the current wave of violence.

Since the beginning of the year, 19 Israelis have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

And just in recent weeks, rocket and missile attacks have been launched against Israel from Gaza, Syria, and even Lebanon.

Toward the end of his remarks, Netanyahu actually made news.

The prime minister withdrew the vow he made several weeks ago to fire his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, saying that he had “grave disagreements” with Gallant but that he has decided to put those behind him and work together to safeguard the country.

Netanyahu was absolutely right to do so.

It was a terrible mistake to say that he planned to fire Gallant in the first place.

Gallant, 64, has not only been a solid member of Netanyahu’s Likud party but a loyal political ally of Netanyahu.

What’s more, Gallant has solid military credentials, both as a combat soldier and a senior officer.

He began his service in 1977 as a naval commando in one of the IDF’s most elite fighting units, Shayetet 13.

He rose to the rank of major general and in 2005 was appointed head of Israel’s Southern Command.

In September 2010, Netanyahu appointed Gallant to serve as the IDF chief of staff, the highest possible rank in the army, roughly equivalent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the United States.

Gallant has “proven his worth during his 33 years of military service at the IDF's frontlines,” Netanyahu said at the time, adding, “He’s proven himself to be a courageous fighter, an excellent officer, and a responsible and serious battle commander.”

However, a minor scandal ensued in which Gallant was accused of illegally appropriating public land around his home as his own.

Later, according to the Times of Israel, he was partially exonerated of the allegations against him.

But it was too late to save his appointment.

The political winds had shifted, and Gallant was not promoted to IDF chief of staff.

When Netanyahu came back to power last fall, it was a no-brainer for him to appoint someone as experienced and trusted as Gallant to the role of defense minister.

Especially with tensions heating up with Iran and in other theaters.

What made no sense was Netanyahu telling the country – and the world – that he was going to fire Gallant.

After all, what was Gallant’s alleged offense?

The defense minister had privately pleaded with Netanyahu for weeks to hit the pause button on the highly controversial judicial reform bill moving through the Knesset because it was wreaking havoc within the IDF, severely harming the morale of active duty soldiers, as well as reservists.

Fighter pilots and elite commandos were threatening not to report for duty if the bill was passed, saying the bill would destroy Israeli democracy and they would not risk their lives to defend a pseudo-dictatorship.

Gallant told the prime minister it was vital that they slow things down, allow for a compromise bill to emerge, and cool down tensions within the military or risk an outright rebellion.

But Netanyahu refused to listen.

As the situation worsened by the day, and Bibi continued not to act, Gallant felt it was his duty to make public the case he was making to the prime minister in private.

The country, he believed, had the right to know just how much damage the controversy over the bill was having inside the military.

Netanyahu was furious that Gallant made his case on live TV on a Saturday night, especially when Netanyahu was out of the country (in the UK at that moment).

Bibi considered Gallant’s move an act of insubordination and announced that he was going to fire Gallant.

But as ALL ISRAEL NEWS reported at the time, the apparent firing of the defense minister just for asking Netanyahu to hit the pause button for a few weeks, effectively poured gasoline on the fires of the Israeli opposition movement.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis turned to the streets to protest Netanyahu’s refusal to listen to reason and engage in real talks to find a reasonable compromise on the bill.

Many feared – rightly or wrongly – that Israeli democracy was really at risk.

The airport shut down as workers refused to show up.

Banks, public schools, universities, stores and many other institutions also shut down as the country entered the most dramatic political and social crisis in its modern 75-year history.

Within 48 hours of Netanyahu announcing Gallant’s firing, Netanyahu stunned everyone by reversing course.

The prime minister announced that he would hit the pause button.

And talks really did begin on a compromise bill.

But Netanyahu let Gallant swing in the wind.

He never sent Gallant the official paperwork sacking the defense minister.

But nor did he publicly say Gallant could stay.

Until Monday night.

After Netanyahu’s polls plunged.

And even many of Bibi’s supporters openly questioned his judgment.

Many called for Netanyahu to keep Gallant on the job – especially with terrorism spiking from nearly all directions.

Netanyahu did the right thing by listening and keeping Gallant in his position.

But it still must be asked: Why did it take so long?

Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.

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