Gantz tells FADC: We are committed to bring Schalit home

Chief of staff says "arc of threats in Middle East expanding," although Syria unlikely to attack and peace with Egypt is strong.

Benny Gantz 521 (photo credit: ARIEL JEROZOLIMSKI)
Benny Gantz 521
(photo credit: ARIEL JEROZOLIMSKI)
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said the IDF is “committed to make every effort to bring [captive] soldier Gilad Schalit home,” while speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for the first time on Tuesday.
“I met with the Schalit family one week after I started my job and promised them I would do whatever is necessary,” he explained.
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Gantz also added that “any public debate on the way to bring back Gilad Schalit is wrong and needs to stay closed.”
Last week, former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi said that the IDF is incapable of securing Schalit’s release, during a speech at Bar-Ilan University.
Gantz warned of the “expanding arc of threats in the Middle East,” saying they range from “the knife of an individual terrorist to Iranian nuclear weapons.”
Due to this “expanding arc,” Gantz told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the IDF needs a “new, expanded defense budget.”
“Past threats are still relevant, but new threats are developing, which require us to be able to act on numerous fronts strongly and decisively in our enemies’ short time frame,” Gantz explained.
However, Gantz said that neither Syria nor Egypt is an immediate threat to Israel.
“We have peace with Egypt; our interest is to strengthen them,” the chief of staff explained. “However, it is important to mention that Egypt is not stable as it was in the past, and our level of security needs to be higher than it was.”
Gantz added that the fence being built along the southern border will “serve as a solution to the infiltration problem and prevent arms smuggling.” He said the fence is expected to be finished at the end of next year.
Gantz also said that Syrian President Bashar Assad “doesn’t know today what Syria will look like next week. This uncertainty bothers him as much as it bothers us.”
However, he added, “the likelihood that Assad will open fire on Israel in order to lower the pressure on him is small.”
“Iran is a central threat, not only because of its nuclear capabilities, but because of its support to radical groups, which it supplies with weapons,” he said.
The chief of staff said “there is a new central player in the Middle East – the street.”
“The IDF is prepared for these demonstrations in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and on our borders.” He added that the IDF has trained its soldiers and prepared equipment for such an occurrence.
Gantz explained that if the IDF had the proper equipment during the Nakba Day demonstrations, “the event would not have developed in the same way,” adding that the IDF “was not negligent, but mistakes were made.”
Soldiers were posted near Kuneitra in the Golan Heights, Gantz said, but when the IDF saw demonstrators crossing into Majdal Shams, “we transferred reinforcements within 19 minutes.”
“The IDF learned the lessons of Nakba Day,” Gantz said. “I expect that in the future we will see similar Border Intifadas,” he said, referring to Syrians crossing into Israel.
Gantz also mentioned haredi soldiers, saying that “whoever can enlist should come to the IDF, so the IDF will have the possibility of choosing who it wants. The IDF should have to limit the number of haredim enlisting in special programs.”
At the meeting’s opening, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee head MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) congratulated Gantz on his new job as chief of staff, which he began three months ago.
“Even if the prime minister and defense minister made mistakes in how they chose you, they made a good choice,” Mofaz, a former IDF chief of staff, said.
MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) said he is glad to see a young chief of staff that will bring “a young way of thinking” to the IDF.
“This year is going to be very interesting. I don’t envy you,” Ben-Eliezer added.
Gantz thanked the committee, saying that in his new job “the burden of responsibility is greater than the fame and respect.” He added that the IDF is prepared for future challenges, and he intends to keep it that way.
Gantz also mentioned the appointment of the IDF’s first female major-general, Orna Barbivai.
“I’m happy to be the person whose turn it was in history to promote her,” he said, adding that Barbivai had served in all the jobs necessary for success in her new role.