Gantz: I met with Abbas to prevent a Hamas war, would do so again

The defense minister says the right-wing MKs who condemned him for meeting with the Palestinian Authority in public sound differently behind closed doors.

 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN, REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/FILE PHOTO)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz
(photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN, REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/FILE PHOTO)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday said he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to prevent a war with Hamas and would do so again.

“The need to look after the safety of Israel’s citizens and the fight against Hamas is the main reason I met with Abbas last week,” he told his Blue and White Party Knesset faction.

“It’s the reason that I will continue to meet with him and others with whom discourse benefits stability, security and our interests,” he added.

“As defense minister, my job is to make sure that the IDF is ready for war,” but “as a statesman, my job is to prevent that war,” Gantz said.

“The one who is responsible for sending soldiers into battle is the one who is responsible for doing everything to prevent it,” he emphasized.

 BENNY GANTZ (credit: KEN CEDENO/REUTERS) BENNY GANTZ (credit: KEN CEDENO/REUTERS)

Gantz mocked the ministers who condemned the Abbas meeting at his Rosh Ha’ayin home. He was “disappointed” in them, he said, adding that they were guided by their political views rather than Israel’s security needs.

“Behind closed doors they sound different,” Gantz said. “As far as I’m concerned, whenever politics clash with security, security must always prevail.”

The ministers who criticized Gantz publicly were Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, all of New Hope. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the meeting “legitimate” but reiterated that he would never meet with Abbas.

When asked about Bennett’s reaction, Gantz said the prime minister had a right to have a different opinion.

“I have heard the criticism [against me], and I repeat: Whoever is responsible for soldiers in battle also has the responsibility to do everything to prevent it,” he said.

It was also in the best interests of the Palestinians that the sides continue to meet, because peace gives them a healthy economy with a good future, Gantz said.

Earlier on Monday morning, machine-gun fire caused incoming rocket sirens to be activated in an open area in the South, near the border with the Hamas-run enclave. The alert was activated on the Home Front Command application only and did not sound in towns in the region.

While the gunfire did not cause any injuries or damage, it was the latest incident along the tense border that has seen sniper fire and rocket launches toward central Israel in the past week.

Gantz, who has warned in the past that Israel would retaliate to every security event from the Gaza Strip, on Monday said: “We are prepared to harm anyone who tries to harm us – terrorists and also those who sent them – from wherever they operate.”

Following the two rockets fired toward Tel Aviv on Saturday that fell in the sea off of the coast, Israel carried out airstrikes against Hamas targets. Though no group has taken responsibility for the launches, Hamas said it was “unintentional” and due to bad weather.

“As we respond to the launch of incendiary balloons, we will exact a price and make it clear to our enemies that ‘mistakes’ will be paid for so that they will make sure they do not happen again.”

Ariella Marsden contributed to this report.