Gantz steps into defense minister’s role, says he’ll push Trump plan

Benny Gantz takes office as defense minister pledging to push the Trump peace plan forward.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Benny Gantz took the reins at Israel’s Defense Ministry and said he would maintain Israel’s military advantage in the region and will push to advance the Trump peace plan, Israel Hayom reported Tuesday.

At the austere ceremony at the Ministry of Defense offices in Tel Aviv, Gantz noted that as an IDF officer he had walked thousands of times on the footbridge connecting the office of the IDF chief of staff to the Defense Ministry.

“Today, I did it for the first time as Israel’s defense minister,” Gantz said. “I pledge to do everything to protect you and protect the country. There is no greater privilege than this.”

Due to coronavirus health concerns, the normally gala ceremony for an incoming defense minister was done without an honor guard or military band.

Now sitting on the other side of the desk he knows so well, Gantz said one of his goals is to set a multiyear plan for the IDF to deal with future threats.

“We will defend the citizens of Israel from threats both near and far, we will identify them, cut them off and destroy them,” he said.

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Gantz said peace remains one of the central goals of the government, but that Israel has to be prepared for what he called “the strategic reality” facing the country.

“Peace was and remains an important part of the Zionist spirit,” he said. “We will advance the peace plan of the American administration and President Trump.”

Gantz also addressed criticism of the size of the unity government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which a record number of ministers and deputy ministers were appointed at additional public expense during the pandemic economic crisis. He described what he saw as a possible civil war erupting in Israel had the country been forced to go to a fourth round of general elections.

“It is no secret that the State of Israel is going through a difficult period in the shadow of the corona epidemic,” he said.

“These are days of an undermining of the faith in the offices of government,” Gantz said, noting he decided to join the unity government because of what he saw as “attempts to incite and maybe God forbid to move closer to civil war and to win it. I have been victorious in battles, I have fought in wars, and this war I don’t want to win, this war I am obligated to prevent.”

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Before the ceremony, Gantz met with the families of the two Israeli civilian hostages and two fallen IDF soldiers who are held hostage by the Hamas terror group in Gaza. With negotiations ongoing for a possible prisoner swap with Hamas, Gantz told the families it was his obligation to return them home.

Gantz is the founder and head of the Israel Resilience party that merged with the Yesh Atid and Telem parties to form the Blue and White faction. When Gantz joined the Netanyahu-led unity government the faction split with two other parties staying in the opposition.

A career soldier, Gantz was the IDF chief of staff from 2011 to 2015 and is the sixth former top soldier to go on to serve as defense minister, joining Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya’alon. Rabin and Barak both also served as prime minister.

Gantz has major hurdles to overcome both as defense minister and when he takes over from Netanyahu as prime minister in November, 2021. The army general and novice politician will have to position himself as not only being strong on security, but also as a statesman in dealing with the Americans, Europeans and Israel’s neighbors in the Middle East.

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He is expected to face fierce criticism over his controversial decision to join a Netanyahu-led government and will have to regain some faith with his electorate.

Normally reserved in public, Gantz will be required to operate at a higher profile with the potential for constant friction with the prime minister’s office and his disgruntled former Blue and White colleagues.