Defense Minister Benny Gantz was interviewed on Sunday by Arabic Alghad TV, which broadcasts from Cairo, in a first-ever interview by an Israeli minister and the first in an unprecedented series of interviews to be broadcast with key Israeli figures.
Journalist Nazir Majli spoke with the Defense Minister last week in his office at the Tel Aviv Ministry of Defense about contending with Iran, the new American administration, the challenges and opportunities in the region as well as the upcoming elections.
On Iran, Gantz said, "Israel has a clear objective: that Iran not be nuclear. It is not just an Israeli interest. It is first and foremost a global and regional interest. The IDF and Israel’s defense establishment are holding onto the option of taking action against Iran's nuclear project if that is what has to be done. I hope it doesn’t come to that."
"A nuclear Iran would lead to a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East. The regime is fundamentalist and radical and ultimately wants to obtain nuclear capability not just to have it, but primarily for the leverage it would give them in nuclear deterrence. I want the public in Iran to understand me: I don’t have anything against them. Iranian citizens deserve a normal life like every other human being. But the regime’s support of terrorism, of Hezbollah, of the Houthis demands action," he added.
Responding to a question on possible Iranian civil nuclear generation, Gantz said, "If you wanted to develop nuclear capability for medical purposes, would you have to hide it underground? Would you need to deny access to inspectors? We know the Iranians are trying to develop nuclear weapons and we will not allow that to happen. "
On possible future regional warfare, he said, "Unfortunately, any future war in our region would involve many civilians; it wouldn’t be just a military-to-military confrontation. Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip aim their missiles towards populated areas in Israel – threatening Arab and Jewish communities alike. Eventually, we will have to attack missiles that are being stored within civilian populations. This is verified intelligence, and we saw the repercussions of such reckless practice by Hezbollah in the port of Beirut."
Gantz boasted about Israel's intelligence capabilities, saying, "We continue to have superior intelligence throughout the Middle East and, in certain respects, throughout the world. We do not use it for any purpose other than ensuring Israel's security. When I tell you, I know there are homes in Lebanon that have guest rooms and missile rooms it’s not just a slogan. It’s the reality on the ground."
Regarding the Biden Administration’s policy vis-à-vis Israel, the Defense Minister expressed optimism that the US-Israel relationship will continue to be very good.
“American support for Israel goes beyond party lines; our ties run deep and close. I’m convinced that we’ll work to make sure that relations with the Biden Administration will be just as good as with previous administrations. The cooperation between our defense establishments is excellent at every level, from intel to strategic planning,” said Gantz.
On the incoming administration’s support for normalization between Israel and Arab states, he said, “Normalized, peaceful relations are the best guarantor of regional security and stability. The ties need to develop into ties between peoples and not just between governments and I hope that we’ll see progressively more of that. Israel has many abilities. So do Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, the Gulf states, Egypt and, Sudan. There is no reason we can’t enjoy them together. Our nations deserve that.”
On relations with the Palestinian Arabs and possible negotiations, Gantz noted, “There is no reason that the wealth of Arab countries and commercial ties with them can’t be shared by the Palestinians as well. I think we need to be in direct contact. It’s all of a 10-minute drive between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It’s unfortunate that we travel so far rather than finding a way to meet with each other right here.”