The Likud bolstered its ranks with Yoav Galant, another former southern commander who moved over from a smaller party.
More often than not, retired generals and security chiefs have been a moderating force in Israeli politics. Perhaps having been closer to the horrors of war, most have tended toward the center or left of the political map, advocating separation and accommodation with the Palestinians, even if they see no immediate prospect of resolving the conflict.
Opposition by generals and security chiefs prevented a possible Israeli decision in 2010 to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Netanyahu has accused Mr. Gantz of being soft on Iran’s ayatollahs and of supporting the 2015 international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program — an agreement that Mr. Netanyahu considered disastrous.
Since the start of the election campaign, Mr. Netanyahu has emphasized that he also is Israel’s defense minister, part of an effort to capitalize on public sympathy for soldiers. He visited military bases and took selfies with the troops until the elections commission barred him from exploiting them for political purposes.
To circumvent the ban, his Likud party filmed a campaign ad accusing Mr. Gantz of being part of the “dangerous” left, against the backdrop of military graves. The ad stirred a backlash.
In Beer Tuvia, Mr. Gantz was introduced as a lieutenant general in the reserves but he took the stage in a dark suit and white shirt. His agenda was purely civilian. He pledged to work for LGBT rights, to help Israel’s struggling farmers, to increase benefits for people with disabilities and to reduce the exorbitant cost of living.
“These are people who gave their lives to the state and now their goal is the good of the country,” said Menachem Por, 73, a retired farmer and a disabled army veteran from the 1967 war, explaining the attraction of the generals. “If we put our soldiers’ lives in their hands, there’s no reason they can’t run the country.”
Anat Shindler, 58, a cosmetician, said, “I like to believe they come clean to politics.”
Maor Douiev, 34, who had just returned from a trip to India, said his own military service had been “very problematic” and that he believed in nonviolence. But he said he would vote for the Blue and White generals “because Bibi has to go and we need a good alternative.”