Outgoing defense minister: I expect Netanyahu to be ‘levelheaded’ about Iran strike

Benny Gantz warns that Israel needs to prepare a plan for targeting Tehran’s nuclear facilities, but must ‘consider issue very carefully before carrying it out’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers of the Yom Kippur War at Mount Herzl, October 6, 2022.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90, file)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers of the Yom Kippur War at Mount Herzl, October 6, 2022.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90, file)

Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he expects Benjamin Netanyahu to be “levelheaded” about potentially launching strikes against Iran and its nuclear facilities.

In light of growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers due to long-stalled negotiations, the past two years have seen the Israel Defense Forces ramp up its efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites.

Speaking to military reporters Tuesday before he is set to be replaced in the coming weeks, Gantz said he thinks Netanyahu “will be levelheaded in this regard.”

“The last time the IDF was at a high level of preparedness for an attack on Iran, I was military chief of staff,” Gantz said, adding that “it was decided then not to do so, by the same prime minister who is expected to take office.”

“Israel has the ability to act in Iran. We have the readiness, development capabilities, and long-term plans we are managing. We need to prepare for this possibility, and we will also need to consider this issue very carefully before carrying it out,” he said.

Gantz said he predicted that “Iranian audacity” to commit attacks against Israel and other allies in the region would receive “a boost” as a result of its increased ties with Russia. Iran has supplied attack drones to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and in turn, Tehran has reportedly requested Moscow’s assistance with its nuclear program.

Benjamin Netanyahu, former Israeli Prime Minister and the head of Likud party, speaks to his supporters after first exit poll results for the Israeli Parliamentary election at his party’s headquarters in Jerusalem, November 2, 2022. (Oren Ziv/AP)

“Everything possible should be done to preserve and expand the regional architecture,” Gantz said, referring to a prospective joint defense pact between Israel and its regional allies to protect against the threat of Iranian drones and missiles.

Gantz, meanwhile, said he hopes that high tensions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem seen in recent months would not spread to the Gaza Strip and Israel’s northern frontier, “but given the situation, it is not a fictional scenario,” he said.

According to recent military assessments, should war with the Lebanese Iran-backed Hezbollah break out, Israeli cities could be bombarded with 1,500 to 3,000 rockets a day and the death toll could quickly reach into the hundreds. Other Iranian militias based in Syria could join in the potential battle with missiles and drone attacks, according to other assessments.

A drone flies over Kyiv during an attack on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

Speaking on Israel’s policy of not supplying Ukraine with weapons to fight Russia’s invasion, Gantz said it would not be practical for a myriad of reasons.

“The scale of our production is lower than the need for export. We don’t have a large enough production base for [Ukraine’s needs]. Even if it is decided to change policy, it is not possible for us to empty our air defense systems. These talks are hot air,” he said.

“We are checking what can be done and expanded, but we must not forget that NATO stands behind Ukraine,” said Gantz.

Since the early days of the invasion, senior Ukrainian officials have asked Israel to send its missile defense systems, especially the Iron Dome, via public addresses and in private conversations with decision-makers in Jerusalem.

But Jerusalem has so far avoided providing direct military aid to Kyiv — neither offensive arms nor advanced defensive technology — in an attempt to avoid sparking a crisis with Moscow.

Israel is one of the few countries that maintains relatively warm relations with both Ukraine, a fellow democracy, and Russia. But Israel has found itself at odds with Russia as Jerusalem has increasingly supported Ukraine while seeking to maintain freedom of movement in Syria’s skies, which are largely controlled by Moscow.

Following last week’s election, Gantz is to be replaced by a new defense minister picked by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose right-religious bloc is expected to form a coalition in the coming weeks.

The director-general of the ministry, Amir Eshel, also announced he would resign from his post when Gantz leaves. Eshel entered the role shortly after Gantz took over the Defense Ministry in May 2020.

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