Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the chair of the National Unity party, assailed Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday over his handling of Iran’s nuclear program during his tenure as prime minister.
Speaking at a pre-election conference organized by the Maariv news outlet, Gantz decried Netanyahu’s policies at the time, saying they “were detrimental to our battle against Iran’s nuclear program.”
While Gantz cited the need for “strengthening Palestinian governance” and described how the issue “affects our future as a Jewish, democratic and safe state,” he added that in his opinion the Iran nuclear issue is “the greatest strategic challenge” Israel faces.
The mismanagement “began with Netanyahu’s decision to speak in [the US] Congress in 2015 despite the opposition of [then] president Obama,” he charged. “That decision created a fault line unprecedented in Israel-US relations.”
Gantz revealed that in 2018, Netanyahu failed to consult Israel’s security establishment before successfully pressuring then-US president Donald Trump to pull out of the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran.
As for a Plan B for Israel and the US in the absence of a nuclear deal, Gantz claimed that Netanyahu had made no “diplomatic, economic or military” preparations for the pullout, adding that “as for actions, he swapped them for papers and public relations shows.”
After his appointment as defense minister, Gantz told the conference, he immediately prioritized developing military plans for use against Iran if the need arose. However, the state budget, which Gantz said was “taken hostage by Netanyahu’s political whims,” got in the way.
Amid political instability, the Knesset failed to pass a budget from 2018 until the Bennett-Lapid government replaced Netanyahu’s in 2021.
Despite early suggestions that Gantz and Netanyahu may seek to jointly form a coalition after the November 1 election, both leaders publicly declared that they would not sit with one another, trading insults in the process.
Gantz said the issues left in the wake of Netanyahu’s previous premiership remain “at the doorstep of the next government” and said the objective of his criticism was to make sure “we aren’t repeating the same mistakes and aren’t giving the keys back to the person who led us to the current situation.”
Gantz insisted that only a “broad and stable government” acting “responsibly” will be able to solve the Iran issue. “If there is a need, we will act against Iran,” he added.
With elections just eight days away, Gantz used the platform to lay out his security agenda if he becomes prime minister.
“First, we must stick to orderly work processes, cabinet discussions, discussions with professionals, and strategic decision-making years in advance.”
Second, Gantz said the government needed to permit and budget for a multi-year defense plan, “which will allow us to prepare for all the large challenges that we are faced with.”
The third prong to his plan was to strengthen bipartisan relations within the US, which would allow Israel to “maintain our security superiority.”
Gantz said he would also push for a “better agreement,” referring to the stalled negotiations between the West and Iran over a renewed nuclear deal, adding that if no acceptable deal could be struck, he would push for “an effective plan B led by the US.”
The defense minister said that if this couldn’t be achieved, Israel would, in an “extreme scenario,” conduct “a preemptive strike against Iran.”
In a final jab at his political opponents, Gantz said that an “extremist government simply cannot deal with these challenges,” a reference to the right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu, which features the far-right Religious Zionism party.