In Washington, Gantz says Netanyahu cares only about his own woes

Blue and White leader doesn’t begrudge PM victory of Golan Heights recognition, says he didn’t ask for a meeting with Trump

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Benny Gantz (C) and Yair Lapid (R), leaders of the Blue and White political alliance, arrive to hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Benny Gantz (C) and Yair Lapid (R), leaders of the Blue and White political alliance, arrive to hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

WASHINGTON, DC — Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on Sunday attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of focusing only on his personal issues and his legal woes, and neglecting matters of national importance.

At the same time, Gantz, who was speaking to Israeli reporters in Washington, continued to refuse to address reports that Iran hacked his phone, insisting that it contained no material that could potentially pose a security risk.

“I watched the Netanyahu interview last night. And I have say that I am very worried. It was 40-minute interview, and it was all about Netanyahu. Nothing about the issues that Israelis are concerned about,” he said.

“Israel has to come before everything. It cannot be Bibi everything,” he added, using the prime minister’s nickname. “This needs to be changed.”

Gantz reiterated his call for an investigation into Netanyahu for green-lighting Germany’s sales of advanced submarines to Egypt.

On Saturday, Netanyahu acknowledged for the first time that he kept this matter from the defense minister and the IDF chief of staff, citing a “state secret” that he cannot discuss and to which even senior security officials must not be exposed.

“Every decision of strategic importance needs to go through the relevant institutions, certainly the sale of submarines to neighboring countries. This is not some sort of secret operation happening overnight. It cannot but take place through the formal channels,” Gantz said.

“A country is not managed through cousins and confidants,” said the Blue and White leader, referring to suspects in a separate case regarding Israel’s purchase of German submarines who are related to Netanyahu or from his inner circle.

There is no state secret that the IDF chief and the defense minister should not be aware of, added Gantz, who was the head of the military around the time of the approval.

Gantz, who will address AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference on Monday morning — around the same that Netanyahu will meet US President Donald Trump in the White House — said that he did not seek to set up a meeting with the US president as well. While he is actively trying to unseat Netanyahu, Israel only has one prime minister at a time, and it was normal that only he meet with the American president, Gantz said.

Netanyahu, who arrived in DC earlier on Sunday, will conduct two meetings with Trump to discuss the White House’s expected recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Iranian military activity in the region, and other security issues.

Netanyahu’s visit will deal with “important achievements” for the Jewish state, Gantz said. “I wish him success on the trip.”

“I think that bipartisanship has to be the most important thing,” Gantz said. “There is only one US for Israel, there is only one Israel for the US.”

Trump has a close relationship with Netanyahu and the decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights must not be seen as an effort to interfere in Israel’s upcoming Knesset election, the Blue and White chief said.

“If it’s good for Israel, it’s fine with me,” he said, adding that it does not bother him that Netanyahu will take credit for the US president’s historic move.

Netanyahu has campaigned heavily on his diplomatic achievements and ties to world leaders, contrasting them with Gantz’s more bare resume on the world stage.

Asked if he thought he could establish as good a rapport with foreign leaders as Netanyahu did, Gantz replied: “Easily… People are telling you [unfounded] stories [to the contrary]. Is my starting point worse in any way than Netanyahu’s [when he first became prime minister]?”

During the briefing in a small room in the capital’s Jefferson Hotel, several reporters tried to ask the prime ministerial hopeful about his refusal to divulge information about material on his phone possible hacked by Iran.

Gantz, seemingly annoyed, refused to answer, insisting it was entirely private matter that he was not obligated to talk about.

At one point, Channel 13’s Gil Tamary brought the topic up again, prompting Gantz to say: “Gil, give me your cell phone.”

Rather than refuse, Tamary tossed his cell phone at Gantz, seemingly catching the candidate off guard.

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