Former IDF chief hints he stood in way of Iran attack
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Former IDF chief hints he stood in way of Iran attack

In television interview, Benny Gantz reveals arguments between army and government over strike

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (right) listens as US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey answers a question during their joint news conference at the Pentagon, January 8, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (right) listens as US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey answers a question during their joint news conference at the Pentagon, January 8, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Israel’s recently retired chief of staff hinted that he helped prevent a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program.

Speaking to Ilana Dayan, host of Channel 2’s Uvda newsmagazine, Lt. Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz said he felt that without his presence and input in high-level government discussions, other decisions might have been made.

“It never reached, ‘OK, take off and fly,'” said Gantz in the interview, which is set to air Monday night in Israel. But he added: “I want to believe they listened and took into consideration what I have to say.”

Gantz, who retired in February after 38 years of service, also revealed a dispute between the political leadership, which was moving toward a military strike, and the IDF, opposed to such a move.

Despite the disagreement, the army would implement such a strike if ordered to do so by the political leadership, Gantz affirmed.

Gantz’s period as chief of staff was a tumultuous one, as he found himself shepherding the IDF through the instabilities caused by the Arab uprisings, the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the cyclonic civil war in Syria, and the ever deteriorating security situation along Israel’s northern and southern borders.

But his legacy may be shaped by inaction against Iran’s nuclear program. The decision to strike was not his to make, but his opposition to a strike during this period, together with the reported opposition of several other security chiefs in recent years, may have helped prevent the political decision to carry it out.

Last year Gantz said that a resolution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program was “preferable without force, but if there’s no choice then it can [be done] with force.”

He said then that Israel “unequivocally” had the capacity to strike Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, and that “we’ll know how to act when needed.”

Like his predecessor Gabi Ashkenazi, though, Gantz did not believe that the midnight hour had arrived during his four-year term. He apparently disagreed with former defense minister Ehud Barak, who asserted in January that Israel’s capacity to act militarily against Iran’s nuclear program is “declining and in danger of eroding.”

Striking a rogue nuclear program belonging to a state with a powerful military that was openly at odds with the West for decades was difficult but doable, Barak seemed to be arguing; striking the infrastructure of a state that has been welcomed back into the family of nations, that has agreed to the demands of the United States and which is ostensibly in lockstep with the International Atomic Energy Agency is another matter entirely. It is a difference that the military echelons did not fully grasp, Barak has argued.

Gantz’s successor, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot is of a similar mind regarding Iran: the time for action, Eisenkot reportedly believes, has not yet come.

Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.

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