Former Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz has emerged as Benjamin Netanyahu’s main challenger for the post of prime minister, after polls showed the military man had the public’s support.
Gantz, who oversaw military operations in Gaza in 2012 and 2014, is a lifelong soldier who has fought in several wars, including Lebanon, but was last week reported to be setting up his own political party.
On Monday, the monthly Peace Index taken by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, which measures public opinion, showed 39 percent would choose Gantz as prime minister, with 46 percent preferring Netanyahu.
The two men outshone rivals by some considerable distance, with religious-nationalist leader Naftali Bennett and centrist candidate Yair Lapid both on 23 percent, while former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman registered 19 percent.
Gantz’s political arrival comes after several polls showed widespread disapproval of Netanyahu’s handling of the Gaza border clashes since March. The government authority was further eroded after Lieberman resigned over the truce with Hamas last month.
When coalition partner Bennett responded by agitating for the defence ministry, threatening to bring down the government if not, commentators said an election was imminent, but so far Netanyahu has held his precarious coalition together.
Any new party headed by Gantz is expected to take seats from Netanyahu’s Likud, Lapid’s Yesh Atid and the left-leaning Zionist Union, whose failure to offer a popular candidate will see it lose yet more power to right-wing parties at the ballot box.
While some had speculated that police investigations into Netanyahu would hamper his election chances, this month’s poll suggests that he has not been hurt by the latest recommendation that he be indicted for corruption.