Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz marked the three-year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead on Tuesday by hailing it "an excellent operation that achieved deterrence for Israel vis-a-vis Hamas." However, he warned, cracks have emerged in that deterrence over time, and a second round of fighting in the Gaza Strip is not a matter of choice for Israel.
Such a round must be initiated by Israel and must be "swift and painful," he said, adding, "I do not advise Hamas to test our mettle."
Speaking on Army Radio on Tuesday in honor of Shirutrom, the IDF's annual telethon, Gantz gave his most wide-ranging interview since taking office more than 10 months ago. His predecessor, Gabi Ashkenazi, gave no interviews to the civilian media during his four years in office. Only once a year, in honor of the telethon, did he agree to any interviews at all.
Gantz appears to be taking the same tack, although sources close to him say he will be interviewed by the civilian media in the future.
In response to a question by interviewer Ilana Dayan regarding the timing of such an attack, Gantz said, "We will act when the conditions are right."
In reference to the debate over the best way to act against the Iranian nuclear program, Dayan asked Gantz whether his position and that of the new Mossad chief Tamir Pardo were not as strong as that of Ashkenazi and the former Mossad head, Meir Dagan. Gantz rejected the idea, stating, "Whoever should hear, hears my voice loud and clear."
Last November, after Yoav Galant was appointed to succeed Ashkenazi as chief of staff and Gantz retired from the IDF - only to return as chief of staff three months later when Galant's appointment was rescinded - Gantz told Haaretz he was proud he did not have to compromise his principles in the race for chief of staff.
Much of the interview was devoted to high-profile issues in the media of late, such as women singing in the IDF. Gantz characterized an incident last week in which female soldiers were prevented from singing at a Hanukkah ceremony at a basic training camp as "not good." He said he would act to prevent such occurrences in the future and would order an investigation into the incident.
Gantz also made a distinction between official IDF ceremonies, where he said he would not allow Orthodox soldiers to leave while women were singing, and entertainment, where Gantz said "we can and should respect [Orthodox soldiers' wishes to leave the hall]."
"We don't quarrel with people. We look for how we can serve them," he added.
"Women's singing is not banned and ... the person who decides what happens in the room is the commander. The State of Israel and the IDF must make clear that the only authority is that of the commanders," Gantz told Dayan.
Gantz apologized again for a recent exchange with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, interpreted by some as an insult to women. "I was mistaken in the way I expressed myself," he said, referring to a comment caught on tape during a recent Golani Brigade exercise in the Golan Heights.
"Women will serve everywhere they need to serve. They can contribute operationally and can function in an operational environment," Gantz said.
Gantz noted that the defense minister had approved the recent round of top appointments he made. He said the appointment of Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon as GOC Central Command had nothing to do with Alon's statements against the extreme right. He attributed Alon's appointment solely to his skills.
It appears Gantz successfully navigated his first media test, conveying the messages he wanted to convey and avoiding unnecessary pitfalls. And yet it may be hoped that, next time, Gantz will take somewhat more of a risk and speak on the record to the civilian media as well.
Another question, one that did not come up in the interview, remains unanswered: Why does the IDF, with massive funding at its disposal each year, still need to hold a telethon and scrounge for pennies from civilians?