Gantz tours north, hears threats assessment from IDF, meets local mayors
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Gantz tours north, hears threats assessment from IDF, meets local mayors

Defense minister makes first visit to Northern Command, discusses Iranian presence in Syria, gets updates on Lebanon from top brass

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, surveys the northern border with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, right, in northern Israel on June 2, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, surveys the northern border with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, right, in northern Israel on June 2, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited northern Israel on Tuesday, speaking to senior officers about the threats facing Israel from Syria and Lebanon, his office said.

It was Gantz’s first visit to the Israel Defense Forces’ Northern Command since entering his position last month. During the trip, he met with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Northern Command chief Amir Baram and commander of the 210th Bashan Division Amit Fisher.

The trip “focused on the security challenges in the northern arena, chiefly the Iranian presence in Syria and the developments on the Lebanese front,” Gantz’s office said.

During his visit to the area, the defense minister also met with mayors of communities on the northern border, including the head of the Mateh Asher region, Moshe Davidovitch, who serves as the head of the so-called “Forum of Front-Line Communities,” representing the towns closest to the Lebanese and Syrian borders and thus most likely to be attacked in a war.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, meets with the heads of northern Israel towns and cities in northern Israel on June 2, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“During the meeting, civil and security matters were raised regarding the northern communities, including the issue of shelters,” Gantz’s office said, referring to well-documented shortages of proper bomb shelters in the area.

A 2016 State Comptroller report found that roughly one-third of the residents of northern Israel do not have access to a proper bomb shelter. Though a number of plans have been proposed and have begun to address this severe shortage in the interim four years, the matter remains largely unresolved.

Israel’s border with Lebanon has seen an uptick in activity along it in recent months, with an increase in smuggling and attempted crossings by migrants.

In Syria, Israel has for years been waging a generally quiet war with Iran and its proxies in order to prevent the Islamic Republic from creating a military foothold in the country.

Gantz’s visit on Tuesday was his second official visit to an IDF territorial command since he took office on May 17.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, right, meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center, and Northern Command chief Amir Baram in northern Israel on June 2, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Last week, the defense minister traveled to the IDF Southern Command and reportedly warned that tensions with the Palestinian enclave would remain despite a current lull.

Then too Gantz met with both military officials and local mayors during the trip.

In his meeting with local officials, Gantz warned that “tensions would not disappear, they will be with us for many years,” according to the Walla news site.

“We know who our neighbors are. We seek peace. There will be ups and downs, and we are ready for anything. We won’t be chumps if something happens in Gaza,” he said, according to the outlet.

The Gaza frontier has been relatively quiet in recent months as Israel and the Strip’s rulers, the Hamas terror group, have been negotiating a prisoner exchange and ceasefire, which neither side appears interested in threatening with an attack.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center-left, and Minister Michael Biton, center-right, meet with head of the Southern Command Herzi Halevi, right, and Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, left, in southern Israel on May 26, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

During the visit, Gantz also met with IDF chief Kohavi, head of the Southern Command Herzi Halevi and commander of the Gaza Division Eliezer Toledano, as well as other lower-ranking officers, the Defense Ministry said.

“This is the first visit that Gantz has made in his position and he focused on the Palestinian front in Gaza and to the challenges on the southern front in general — on the security and civilian level,” his office said.

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