It was the right speech to hear, and for Benny Gantz to give.
On Sunday, former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz offered his first major foreign and security policy address, at the high-profile 55th Munich Security Conference. It wasn’t the highlight speech of the conference; indeed, it wasn’t even held in the main hall but in a side room.
Nevertheless, Gantz delivered an important speech, and a very telling one, carrying a message that every responsible Zionist leader would bring to the international community: Yes, we’re in an election campaign, with much ideology dividing us that produces ugly political attacks on a daily basis. All that is true.
But make no mistake. We as the Jewish nation, across the political aisle, understand a fundamental truth: We are at war with an enemy that is self-confessed bent on our destruction. And politics has nothing to do with it.
“It is no secret that Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu is my political rival,” Gantz told his audience. “We disagree on many issues. But make no mistake – we are both devoted sons of the same nation. When Israel’s security is under threat, there is no daylight between us. On this critical issue there is no Right or Left; there is no coalition or opposition. When it comes to defending Israel, we are united. I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the fight against Iran’s aggression. I am certain he will do the same when I will be the prime minister of Israel.”
To be sure, that last sentence certainly proved that it was also a campaign speech – delivered to mostly Israeli reporters, with potential voters of his Israel Resilience Party back in Tel Aviv in mind: Gantz seemed to be trying to convey to Israelis that he can do what Netanyahu can do – he can attend an international conference and give a prime ministerial speech.
And being an election campaign, it was not surprising to hear Netanyahu take some jabs at Gantz, for “hitchhiking” on the prime minister’s own opposition to the Iranian nuclear program, trying to take credit for the prime minister’s policy.
“For years, I have vigorously led the opposition to the dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran,” Netanyahu said on Sunday at the cabinet meeting. “I stood my ground, and that turned the tide of events and produced a historic pivot. Now there are all kinds of hitchhikers riding the wave. But the public knows how to distinguish between true leadership and amateurish imitations.”
Putting aside the political banter, the essence of Gantz’s message was presenting what exactly the threat from Iran means to Israelis.
“I am also standing here as Benny – the son of Malka and Nachum Gantz, Holocaust survivors,” he said, and spoke of his mother surviving Bergen-Belsen.
“When my mother emerged from the worst catastrophe of human history, she chose life over death. Along with hundreds of thousands of Jews, she returned to our ancient homeland, built a home, raised four children and participated in one of the most remarkable human endeavors of the modern era: the rebirth of Israel!”
And Gantz explained the result of that history:
“Here in Munich I say: the Jewish people and the Jewish state will never again put its fate in the hands of others. We will protect ourselves by ourselves and guarantee the future of our people.”
Gantz spoke after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the conference that Israel is “looking for war.” Gantz warned: “Do not be deceived by his eloquence; do not be fooled by his lies. As IDF former chief of staff, I saw firsthand precise information regarding what is really happening in Iran. Hence, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the regime Mr. Zarif represents is an evil one.”
That is the policy not of one party, nor of one prime minister, but of the country as a whole. We know here in the State of Israel that we are fighting against Iran’s front lines, Hezbollah and Hamas, with a nuclear-bound Islamic republic behind them. It is a daily battle, a hard battle – and a never-ending battle. No matter who becomes prime minister after April 9, that battle will need to continue.