Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday held as a first-of-its-kind town hall with Arab journalists, highlighting efforts by Turkey and Iran to destabilize the region and undermine efforts to achieve peace.
Among those taking part were Mohamed Al Hammadi, the editor of the UAE-based Alroeya newspaper, and Ahdeya Ahmed Al-Sayed of Bahrain, who, during a webinar last week, described harassment he faced for taking part in a previous unprecedented online forum that brought together more than a dozen Arab media people and Israeli journalists and government officials.
They were joined by two Saudi journalists and other colleagues in the session with Gantz, which was organized and sponsored by the Arab Council for Regional Integration, according to the council’s general organizer Joseph Braude.
During the call, Gantz focused on efforts by Turkey and Iran to undermine the recently signed normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, and their continued support for conflicts in the region.
He accused the two nations of “denying promotion of peace and supporting regional aggression.”
While Israel frequently slams arch-foe Iran, public criticism of Turkey, which still maintains relations with Israel, is rare.
Gantz highlighted Ankara’s involvement in the civil war in Libya, naval tensions with Greece and Cyprus over natural gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkish involvement in the Syrian civil war, and its close ties with the Palestinian terror group Hamas, saying that this “pushes away from stability.”
Gantz noted that dealing with Turkey was complicated by the fact that it was a member of NATO.
“So we must take all the options that we have in our hands and try to influence it through international pressure to make sure that they are pulling their hands from direct terrorism,” he said in the hour-long Zoom call.
On Iran, Gantz said Israel’s new ties with Sunni Arab nations provided further means for confronting Tehran.
“We have the strategic tools to face Iran. We are stronger than them. Our collaborations give us new strategies and options, and the Iranians understand that too. The best strategy for regional stability is peace,” he said.
Gantz said he hoped normalization would provide tools to help combat radical extremists. “We need to be able to offer a better alternative, to show the positive outcomes of moderation,” he said. “We have so much to offer each other. Israel has largely been an island, but we have so much to offer and so much to receive. There is no better strategy than actual human ties.”
Gantz told participants that despite being a general, he has a deep commitment to peace and shared an anecdote about how his first operational mission as an Israel Defense Forces soldier was to secure the convoy of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat as he came to Israel to make peace.
Gantz also called on Arab states to confront the terror groups operating from their territory, singling out Lebanon and Hezbollah.
“I demand that states be held responsible. Lebanon cannot allow Hezbollah to operate against Israel from within Lebanon and later say, ‘Sorry, that isn’t us,'” Gantz said.
“Any country that faces these types of threats must be able to act against the direct threat posed by the militia, but also against the government hosting it,” he said.