Israel can strike any Iranian nuclear installation on its own and is holding intense discussions between military and political leaders to prepare for the eventuality, Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz said in an interview aired Tuesday.
The interview with Israel Radio was one of several Gantz gave to a number of Hebrew-language news outlets as part of a media blitz for Israel’s 65th Independence day celebrations Tuesday.
Gantz addressed a laundry list of regional security issues, including Iran, Gazan rockets, Hezbollah, Syria, Sinai and developments in the West Bank. He also apologized over the recent flag controversy at a ceremony ahead of Remembrance Day, and blasted proposed budget cuts to the Defense Ministry.
Gantz told Israel Radio that Israel had the capabilities to strike Iranian nuclear targets on its own if no country came to its aid, and that intense, thorough discussions between the military and political leadership on the matter were ongoing.
“The Iranian challenge is very significant and we must approach it with a responsible long-term strategy. We will do what is necessary when it is necessary,” Gantz said, adding that Israel was following nuclear developments in Iran closely.
Gantz also acknowledged the quiet on the frontier with Gaza, which he called the fruits of Israel Operation Pillar of Defense in November, but said if it did not continue, Gaza “would hurt” and Israel would not hesitate to repeat its actions or expand its operations in the Strip in order to achieve that quiet.
“If there are rockets, it’s because Hamas either enabled it or didn’t exercise its control of the area. It’s Hamas’s responsibility and we will hold it responsible,” he warned.
The IDF chief of staff also cautioned that the security situation on the border with Egypt was “not good” and terror organizations were continuing to flourish there, even as the IDF improved its capabilities in the area over the past two years and Egypt continued to crack down on terror in the Sinai.
In the West Bank, where clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters increased in the past few months, Gantz expressed concern that things could escalate further but posited that there didn’t seem to be a “vibe” for a third intifada characterized by the violence by the first or second ones.
Similarly, Gantz urged Lebanon’s Hezbollah to tread carefully, calling Israel’s deterrent capability vis-a-vis the terror group “significant.”
“Hezbollah knows very well what would happened to it if war breaks out. Lebanon knows what will happen if war breaks out. Therefore, I believe they are deterred,” said Gantz.
With Syria, the situation was more complicated, he warned, adding that Israel was prepared for war with the country should the need arise.
“We see that the rebels are increasing their efforts against the Assad regime’s forces and they are gaining power. It’s clear that there will be a ‘second war,’; it could be between the rebels themselves, or it could be against us,” Gantz told Army Radio.
Speaking on the proposed cut to the defense budget as part of Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s plan to rein in Israel’s NIS 39 million deficit, Gantz said that Israel must invest in defense in correlation with the challenges it faces.
“We are in a multi-theater reality and an event that occurs in any place has the potential to have dramatic effects on other theaters, therefore we need to be cautious,” he told Ynet News.
Gantz also issued an apology for the incident last week in which he allegedly skipped over a non-Jewish soldier’s grave while placing ceremonial flags ahead of Remembrance Day. He promised to examine the separation between Jewish and non-Jewish graves at military cemeteries.