Gantz: I’ll always prefer diplomacy to thwart Iran, but all options on the table

Addressing Jewish Agency leaders, prime ministerial hopeful vows to advance frozen Western Wall agreement and to nurture religious pluralism

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Benny Gantz speaking at the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors in Jerusalem, October 29, 2019 (Ofek Avshalom)
Benny Gantz speaking at the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors in Jerusalem, October 29, 2019 (Ofek Avshalom)

Blue and White Benny Gantz said Tuesday he would always prefer diplomatic means to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, though he stressed that, if all else fails, “all options are on the table.”

Addressing the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, which this week convened in Jerusalem, the prime ministerial candidate vowed to implement a plan to upgrade a pluralistic prayer platform at the Western Wall that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government had indefinitely frozen. He also promised to embrace Jewish pluralism.

Israel’s security situation is fragile, and the most acute threat remains Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and its regional aggression, Gantz said.

“All options are on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran, though I will always, and we should always, favor diplomacy,” he declared, speaking in English. “But if we have to, then all options [are] on the table. It’s not a slogan. This is real in life. I know what I’m talking about.”

Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff and political novice, has been accused by his political rivals from right-wing parties as having supported the 2015 nuclear deal six world powers struck with the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu was one of the accord’s foremost critics, saying it enabled Iran to acquire a large nuclear arsenal within a short amount of time.

These issues require less talk — more action. Through diplomatic channels, backchannels and, if needed, operations

In his 15-minute speech, Gantz did not mention Netanyahu by name but hinted that he is talking too much and doing too little about Israel’s security.

“Blue and White is the biggest faction in Israel’s parliament. Our leadership’s 100 years of combined security expertise is unmatched by any other faction in the building,” he said, referring to party leaders and fellow ex-army chiefs Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi.

“I am very familiar with the needs, risks and responses required,” Gantz continued. “These issues require less talk — more action. Through diplomatic channels, backchannels and, if needed, operations.”

Citing Israel’s many challenges, he called for a “broad liberal unity government” that was stable, responsible, and pragmatic.

In a dig at Netanyahu, who is suspect in three separate corruption cases, Gantz went on to say that Israelis must know that their leadership “is pragmatic and has a steady hand on the tiller for the good of the State of Israel — not for personal legal issues.”

Gantz dedicated a significant part of his speech to Israel-Diaspora relations, vowing that Jerusalem will always back Jewish communities across the globe.

“As a former chief of staff of the IDF, as the political leader tasked with forming the Jewish state’s next government — and above all, as a Jew — I say to our brothers and sisters around the world: Israel stands with, behind you, and where it’s needed, in front of you,” he said.

Over the last decade, the ties between Jews in Israel and elsewhere — which he called the Jews’ “secret weapon” — have begun to deteriorate, Gantz said.

“When I will be the prime minister of Israel I will embrace all streams of Judaism,” he declared to raucous applause from the Jewish Agency delegates. “We are part of an inspiringly colorful mosaic of cultures and traditions. And I will nurture this pluralism.”

Jewish girls at the pluralistic prayer section at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, January 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He also promised to “promote the implementation” of a currently frozen agreement to make the Western Wall plaza more accommodating to non-Orthodox streams. “The Western Wall is long enough [for] all of us, together,” he said.

The plan, approved by the cabinet in January 2016, would have seen the establishment of a properly prepared pavilion for pluralistic prayer — as opposed to current temporary arrangements — under joint oversight involving all major streams of Judaism.

Many Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Agency and the Jewish Federations of North America, bitterly denounced the government’s backtracking, threatening to protest until it was reversed.

Netanyahu, however, has consistently rebutted calls to unfreeze the 2016 agreement, citing his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners’ staunch opposition to any move that could be seen as legitimizing pluralistic Judaism.

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