IDF chief briefs Gantz on unspecified regional ‘security challenges’

IDF chief briefs Gantz on unspecified regional ‘security challenges’

Amid warnings of national emergency and Israeli fears over Syria, Aviv Kohavi agrees to Blue and White head’s request for update after Netanyahu approves

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz arrives at a ceremony for incoming chief of staff Aviv Kohavi, at the IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv, on January 15, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)
Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz arrives at a ceremony for incoming chief of staff Aviv Kohavi, at the IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv, on January 15, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi met on Wednesday to discuss “security challenges and regional developments.”

A statement from the army said that Gantz, who is a predecessor of Kohavi’s, requested the meeting and that prime minister of the transitional government Benjamin Netanyahu green-lighted the sit-down.

The briefing came a week after Turkey launched a military operation in northeast Syria that followed US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of American troops from Kurdish areas there. The US pullback, seen by critics as an abandoning of its Kurdish allies, has sparked deep concern in Israel, where there are growing fears that Iran could be emboldened by what appears to be an increasingly hands-off American policy in the region.

Netanyahu’s deadline for trying to form a governing coalition is October 24. At that point, President Reuven Rivlin may grant Netanyahu a 14-day extension, though this is seen as unlikely due to his low chances of success.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L), President Reuven Rivlin (C) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Rather, Rivlin is expected to task Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz with trying to cobble together a coalition.

Three weeks ago, Netanyahu was granted the opportunity to build a government and vowed to allow the president to grant it to another candidate if he failed to do so in a matter of days.

Last week, the high-level security cabinet convened for the first time in two months, amid cryptic warnings by Israeli leaders in recent days of a growing security threat from Iran.

In the days leading up to the session, Hebrew media has quoted unnamed security officials warning of the rising threat of an attack orchestrated by Iran.

Both Netanyahu and Rivlin have mentioned crucial security needs in recent days as they called for the formation of a broad unity government.

Less than a month before the September election, Netanyahu ordered his military secretary Avi Blut and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to brief Gantz on security developments in an extremely rare move reflecting threats of war on multiple fronts.

Israeli pundits surmised the briefing may have been intended to telegraph to Hezbollah and Iran the prime minister’s willingness to embark on war if need be, even with elections nearing.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi visits a large-scale exercise simulating a war with the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Blue and White party’s Gabi Ashkenazi, newly appointed head of the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, warned earlier this month of “many challenges in the security realm, some known to all and some that are only discussed behind closed doors.”

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman has repeated his own calls for Netanyahu and Blue and White chief Benny Gantz to form a unity government, citing a “national emergency, economic challenges and security threats from south, north and further away.”

But Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah rejected claims of an emergency, saying earlier this month that “there is no greater cynic than Netanyahu in using matter of security for political ends. Don’t believe his fear-mongering. Everything is political with him.”

Netanyahu has sought to press Blue and White to join a coalition led by him and including right-wing and Haredi parties. Gantz has so far refused to sit in a coalition with Netanyahu as long as the Likud leader faces corruption indictments, and is also unwilling to join a government comprised of hard-right and ultra-Orthodox parties. Blue and White has said a unity government with Likud could be formed “within an hour” if Netanyahu steps down.

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