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Touring Gaza border amid lull, Gantz said to warn tensions will remain for years

Hours after rocket sirens ring out in false alarm, defense minister meets with top IDF officers, local mayors on first work trip since taking up post

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

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, meets with soldiers from the 202nd Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade on the Gaza border on May 26, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, meets with soldiers from the 202nd Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade on the Gaza border on May 26, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday made his first trip to southern Israel and the Gaza border area since entering his position and reportedly warned that tensions with the Palestinian enclave would remain despite a current lull.

Gantz’s office said he 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.

Gantz’s office refused to comment on what was said in the meeting.

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, 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 of Staff Aviv 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.

Gantz, a former IDF chief who oversaw 2014’s war with Gaza, was sworn in as defense minister on May 17. The tour was his first working trip since taking up the post.

He was joined on his visit by Minister Michael Biton, who is responsible for all civilian-related matters in the Defense Ministry, a newly created government position.

Part of the meeting with local officials, including the mayors of Sderot and the Gaza-adjacent regions, was dedicated to explaining Biton’s position, which was created as part of a coalition agreement between Gantz’s Blue and White party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, left, and head of the Southern Command Herzi Halevi, right, in southern Israel on May 26, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

In addition to meeting with senior IDF officers and mayors, the defense minister also visited soldiers from the 202nd Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade who were stationed on the Gaza border.

Earlier on Tuesday, a false alarm in several Gaza border towns sent hundreds of people rushing to bomb shelters. The military did not comment on what caused the sirens to sound.

Throughout the past three elections, Gantz, sharply criticized the government’s policies regarding the Strip, specifically toward the Hamas terror group, which rules the enclave.

Gantz frequently accused Netanyahu and his coalition of having allowed Israel’s deterrence toward the group to be “erased.”

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