"The greatest threat, at a practical level, is Hezbollah," Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday at the 17th annual Herzliya Conference, held at the IDC. "From a relatively small group in the 1990s they grew into a monster. Our presence in Lebanon had a cost, but the friction kept them in check."
He went on to say, "Today we are talking about some 130,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel's cities. We need to create an equation, which I've been pushing for a number of years and is now more widely accepted by members of the Cabinet, by which Hezbollah is Lebanon and Lebanon is Hezbollah."
Minister Bennett, explaining his strategy, stated, "The problem in the Second Lebanon War was that we were told to go after Hezbollah, but to leave Lebanon alone". Once everyone understands "Hezbollah is part and parcel of Lebanon and the Lebanese government," then "we can prevent the next war, and if it still breaks out drastically shorten it."
Interviewed on stage by Zeev Kam at the Conference, Minister Bennett spoke about a range of topics, from his challenges at the helm of the Education Ministry, to the crisis in Gaza, the situation in Judea and Samaria and the political direction of the Jewish Home Party he heads.
Regarding Gaza, Bennett said Israel's interest "is to postpone or prevent a war, and if a war does happen, to end it decisively and quickly." He also discussed Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, the fallen Israeli soldiers whose bodies are being held by Hamas. He said that, as a member of the security cabinet who sent them to fight, he felt "obligated to bring them home. The mission is not completed until they come home." Bennett also praised the approach taken by their families, who "decided to pressure Hamas and not the Israeli Government. We need to support that with actions and apply pressure to Hamas in order to bring the boys home."
"We want peace, but sometimes situations are unsolvable problems and you need to live with them," Bennett said of the Palestinian Arab issue. "Why do we need to pay hard currency in order to sit and talk with Abbas?" he asked, stressing he has "no problem with negotiations" and won't topple the government over them. "As the right-most marker of the government, I support Palestinian development," he said.
Bennett listed a land port near Jenin, industrial centers and the city of Ruwabi as examples of infrastructure he'd like to see advanced. "We will live side by side, no one is going anywhere."
Minister Bennett was also asked about his role as Minister of Education, and said it gave him hope because he saw "one can affect very real change in a short time," pointing to the national project to advance math and sciences. "After a decade of decline in STEM we've changed the tide," he shared. This year "over 16,000 children graduated the advanced math matriculation exam" giving kids from Rahat, Shlomi and Ofakim an equal chance in life. "This is the greatest social project in Israel," the Minister stated.
"I'm happy the Prime Minister answered the call to allow building in our capital," Bennett replied when asked, adding it needed to be implemented, not just talked about. "There is building, not enough, but that's not everything. We need to develop our school system and higher education, build infrastructure and work on improving all aspects of life."
"The gaps between us, within Israel, are a pressing issue," Bennett shared. "Some thought widening the gulf between Left and Right would help them. They are wrong; we're all losing because of it. Also, the social gaps need to be solved so that kids have a fair starting point, and as Education Minister, I have a crucial role to play."
Each year the Herzliya Conference hosted by the Institute for Policy and Strategy’s (IPS) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) brings together senior personalities from Israel and abroad in the fields of government, security, business, and academia, to discuss the national, regional, and global issues on the agenda. This year the agenda will address the balance of opportunities, risks, and challenges facing Israel as the country readies to mark seven decades of independence.