Netanyahu Fuming Over Rival Cabinet Minister's Rogue Trip To White House, Capitol Hill

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by Tyler Durden
Monday, Mar 04, 2024 - 10:20 PM

In a episode that underscores the tensions straining Israel's wartime unity government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly irate over a senior cabinet minister's unauthorized trip to Washington this week to meet with US officials. 

Benny Gantz, a relative centrist and one of Netanyahu's principal political rivals, arrived in Washington on Sunday afternoon. He's slated to meet on Monday with Vice President Kamala Harris and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. On Tuesday, he'll talk with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and he will also meet senior Congressional leaders during his stay. There's some possibility that President Biden will opt to join one of the White House sessions, sources tell Israeli outlet Ynet News

The first Netanyahu heard of the trip was when Gantz called him on Friday to spring the news and ask for Netanyahu's input about what to communicate to American officials, the Times of Israel reports. The call grew heated, with Netanyahu scolding Gantz, and telling him that "The State of Israel has only one prime minister."   

If a new election were held, Gantz (left) would likely replace Netanyahu as prime minister (Reuters via BBC)

The prime minister's office doesn't consider Gantz's trip to be an official one, since it's happening without Netanyahu's permissions. Consistent with that view, Netanyahu ordered Israel's US ambassador, Michael Herzog, to refrain from providing any assistance to Gantz during his visit. He also blocked government financing of Gantz's travel, which will take him to the United Kingdom next. 

Four days after the Oct. 7 Hamas invasion of southern Israel, Gantz joined Netanyahu in forming an emergency unity government. Nearly five months into the war, Netanyahu is embattled and deeply unpopular. Many Israelis say he's to blame for the Israel Defense Forces being caught off-guard by the Hamas attack. Families of Israelis taken hostage have mounted protests demanding Netanyahu approve a prisoner swap. 

A February poll found that, were an election to be held, an opposition block anchored by Gantz's National Unity party would clobber Netanyahu's far right coalition -- by a 75- to 45-seat margin in the Knesset.  That makes Gantz a seeming prime minister-in-waiting, which helps explain why his self-initiated trip to Washington would leave Netanyahu fuming.  

Gantz previously served as chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and later, minister of defense (IDF photo)

Netanyahu returned to the prime minister's office last January by assembling a coalition of religious and ultra-nationalist extremists unlike any seen in the country's history. With many Democrats angry over Biden's backing of Israel's retaliatory destruction in Gaza and the resulting humanitarian catastrophe, the White House would clearly prefer to deal with a more centrist, Gantz-led government. In late February, Biden fired a shot during a late-night television appearance:

“Israel has had the overwhelming support of the vast majority of nations. If it keeps this up with this incredibly conservative government they have, and [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir and othersthey’re going to lose support from around the world, and that is not in Israel’s interest."

Over the weekend, Israel opted out of sending a delegation to ceasefire discussions in Cairo, sharply contradicting rosy White House statements that Israel had already "basically accepted" a six week ceasefire proposal in Gaza. 

While in DC, Gantz will also meet with leaders of AIPAC -- the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The enormously influential group acts as a de facto lobbying arm of the Israeli government, but without having to register its members as agents of a foreign government, as would otherwise be required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act. 

On Sunday, Politico reported that AIPAC unveiled a $100 million war chest it will use in America's 2024 elections to defeat candidates of either party who are guilty of not backing Israel to extent AIPAC finds acceptable.