Ahead of Gantz security speech, Netanyahu slams Iran policy ‘opportunists’

Ahead of Gantz security speech, Netanyahu slams Iran policy ‘opportunists’

‘I stood my ground, and that changed the direction of events,’ PM tells ministers ahead of rival’s speech to world leaders in Munich

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Flash90)
Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lambasted his election rivals on Sunday, accusing them of trying to take credit for his assertive policy on the Iranian nuclear program.

“For years I have tenaciously led the opposition to the dangerous nuclear deal with Iran,” Netanyahu said.

“I stood my ground, and that turned the tide of events and produced a historic pivot. Now there are all sorts of opportunists trying to take advantage, but the public knows perfectly well how to distinguish true leadership from amateurish impersonation.”

Netanyahu’s comments came shortly before political rival and former IDF chief Benny Gantz spoke about Iran at the Munich Security Conference in the southern German city.

Gantz, who was approved to be army chief by Netanyahu’s cabinet in 2011, is seen as the most credible rival to the prime minister and his ruling Likud party in the April 9 election.

United States Vice President Mike Pence, right, shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Warsaw, Poland, on February 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Netanyahu spent much of last week at a US-led conference in Warsaw, Poland, and had originally been scheduled to fly to Munich. But earlier in the week he decided to return to Israel instead.

Gantz then entered quiet talks with the conference organizers to take part.

The move is seen as a boost for Gantz, giving him an opportunity to showcase his presence on a stage shared with world leaders.

Netanyahu has made his strong ties with a range of presidents and prime ministers a cornerstone of his campaign, arguing that no one else is capable of leading Israel in the international arena.

Gantz has strong security credentials but is short on government and diplomatic experience, though he served as military attaché in Washington from 2007 to 2009.

Israel Resilience Party leader Benny Gantz campaigns in Rishon Lezion on February 1, 2019. (Flash90)

Early last week, Netanyahu ruled out the possibility of forming a coalition with Gantz, saying that he wants to rule with a right-wing government.

“I will not form a government with Benny Gantz,” the prime minister said at a meeting with a group of journalists from conservative religious outlets. “I will be the one to build the coalition, and it will be a nationalistic Likud government, a right-wing government.”

Gantz’s party responded in a statement, saying: “We will establish a Zionist government of hope and unity that will replace Netanyahu.”

Polls show Netanyahu remaining best placed to form a government even if his chief rivals join forces ahead of April’s elections.

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