General and Politician Benny Gantz Born
Gantz and his Wife Revital casting their ballots in Israel’s national election, September 2019. Photo: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

June 9, 1959

Benjamin “Benny” Gantz, who rises to chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces and a top candidate for prime minister, is born in Kfar Ahim. His father is a native of Romania who was detained by the British when immigrating to Palestine, and his mother is a Hungarian Holocaust survivor. The Gantzes are among the founders of Kfar Ahim, a moshav east of Ashdod.

Gantz begins his military career as a paratrooper and attends officer training in 1979. Among his roles over the years are commanding air force commandos and paratroopers, overseeing forces in the West Bank, and serving as the military attache to the United States. He leads the mass airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in Operation Solomon in 1991.

Gantz is promoted to lieutenant general and named the 20th IDF chief of staff in 2011 and remains in the position until 2015. He approves the exchange of Palestinian prisoners for captive soldier Gilad Shalit in October 2011. He leads the IDF through two campaigns in Gaza: Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

After his IDF retirement and his mandatory three-year cooling-off period before he can enter politics, Gantz forms the Israel Resilience Party in December 2018. He merges the party with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem in early 2019 to run as Blue and White with the goal of unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud each win 35 seats in the April 2019 election, but neither party is able to form a government. Blue and White wins 33 seats to Likud’s 32 in the September 2019 election, but again no one is able to form a coalition with a 61-seat majority. After Likud wins 36 seats to Blue and White’s 33 in the March 2020 election, held as the coronavirus pandemic is sweeping the world, Gantz breaks his promise not to form a government with Netanyahu. In a move that ends his alliance with Lapid, Gantz leads his supporters into a coalition with Likud.

Under the coalition agreement, Gantz is named defense minister and alternate prime minister and is supposed to replace Netanyahu as prime minister after 18 months.

Gantz has a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in political science from Tel Aviv University, as well as an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University. He receives the U.S. Legion of Merit for exceptional military conduct in 2012.