Israel's lesson from Ukraine war is that war is possible here, too - Gantz

Gantz opened by pointing out attendee Noam Gerstein. "He is the brother of my brother in arms - esteemed Golani officer, Erez Gerstein."

 Park East’s Rabbi Arthur Schneier with Benny Gantz.  (photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Park East’s Rabbi Arthur Schneier with Benny Gantz.
(photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)

NEW YORK – The lesson from the war in Ukraine is that it can also happen in Israel, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Sunday in New York.

“If you look at the war in Ukraine, you realize that war is an option,” he said at an event to commemorate families of Israeli soldiers. “It’s part of our life as Israelis; we have always known that. Europe has woken up after 70-something years. War may in fact happen.

Russia is a serious, strong nuclear country. Who wants to deal with Iran when they have nuclear capability? This is not an issue that should just bother us as Israelis; it should bother the world at large, and we need an agreement.”

“Who wants to deal with Iran when they have nuclear capability?”

Benny Gantz

“On the Iran issue, of course, it bothers me,” Gantz told reporters. “But I reemphasize what I have always emphasized: Iran is a global challenge.”

The Iran threat should be taken seriously, especially since it is just a “few weeks” away from accumulating sufficient fissile material for a bomb, he said.

 Benny Gantz speaks at Park East Synagogue as part of the Celebrate Israel Parade festivities. (credit: HALEY COHEN) Benny Gantz speaks at Park East Synagogue as part of the Celebrate Israel Parade festivities. (credit: HALEY COHEN)

Gantz said meetings and events in Washington, Miami and New York had reinforced his belief that Israel’s closest partner is the US.

As Israel prepares military options against Iran, Gen. Michael Kurilla, commander of US Central Command, was in Israel last week for a two-day visit in a show of military unity. It was his first official visit to Israel.

According to reports, Kurilla was the first foreign general to watch an IDF exercise from the Fortress of Zion subterranean command bunker. He also observed the IDF’s large-scale Chariots of Fire military drill, which included an additional smaller joint US-Israel drill.

Gantz concluded his four-day visit to the US by paying tribute to families of Israeli soldiers killed in the line of duty.

“Bereaved families are a very important project for us, and marching today in the parade was very meaningful,” he told reporters Sunday.

Gantz singled out attendee Noam Gerstein.

“He is the brother of my brother-in-arms, esteemed Golani officer Erez Gerstein,” he said, referring to the brigadier-general who commanded the IDF’s Lebanon Liaison Unit and who was killed in 1999 in southern Lebanon.

“Erez taught us all about the battlefield, about courage and life itself,” Gantz said. “When he was tragically killed by an explosive planted by Hezbollah, I assumed his role, stepping into the biggest shoes I ever had to fill.”

“On the day of his funeral, I was privileged to be among the generals who carried his coffin,” he said.

“While driving through the roads and fields of Emek Israel, heading towards the kibbutz cemetery, I remember thinking to myself: We must ensure that we are worthy of his sacrifice,” Gantz said. “His image has indeed accompanied me ever since, through every title and rank, all the way to the office of the chief of the defense forces. As if I could ever forget – as if a Jew ever has the privilege to.”

Dubbed “Our Community Supports Bereaved Families,” the event was held at the Park East Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It aimed to forge ties between Israel and bereaved American families. A similar affair was held earlier last week for grieving families in Miami.

In addition to more than 500 Park East congregants, bereaved families and other guests, the event was attended by World Zionist Organization chairman Yaakov Hagoel; Defense Ministry Deputy Director-General Aryeh Muallem, head of the Bereaved Families, Commemoration and Heritage Department; Yad Labanim chairman Eli Ben-Shem; Israeli Consul-General in New York Asaf Zamir and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York).

“It’s a joyous occasion to be here today to celebrate Israel’s 74th birthday,” Maloney said. “There was so much joy at the [Celebrate Israel] parade today. There is so much to celebrate. Israel remains an innovation capital of the world.”

“[COVID-19] did not do good things for the relationship between Israel and American Jewry.”

Asaf Zamir

The pandemic “did not do good things for the relationship between Israel and American Jewry,” Zamir said. “These relationships are built on visiting each other. Seeing everyone at the parade today gave me a feeling of strength. Seeing so many friends of the Jewish community reminded me of the amazing strength the State of Israel has in New York City. People who gave their lives so we can be here, the families who gave that sacrifice, show true strength.”

Earlier on Sunday, Gantz, Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata and Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai took part in the annual Celebrate Israel Parade in Manhattan, which returned this year after a two-year COVID hiatus. Labor MK Gilad Kariv, Yesh Atid MK Inbar Bezek and Likud MK Ofir Akunis marched in the parade alongside tens of thousands of American Jews and supporters of Israel, including New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York Mayor Eric Adams.

According to event organizers, this year’s theme of “Together Again” was a response to the rise of antisemitism in New York and terrorist attacks in Israel.