Why Israel’s Defense Minister Is ‘More Optimistic Than Ever’ These Days

In a keynote address to the Haaretz-UCLA Israeli National Security Conference, Defense Minister Benny Gantz warns of a dangerous Iran, but hails new opportunities for cooperation between Israel, Arab countries and the Palestinians

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Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Haaretz-UCLA Israeli National Security Conference.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Haaretz-UCLA Israeli National Security Conference.Credit: Haaretz
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Haaretz

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the Haaretz-UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center national security conference that he is “more optimistic than ever” these days, despite a growing threat from Iran’s nuclear program and its terror proxies in the region. Gantz, in a keynote address that opened the conference, explained the reasons for his optimism by pointing to other regional developments, mostly related to Israel’s ties with its Arab neighbors.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at Haaretz-UCLA conferenceCredit: Haaretz

When discussing Iran’s actions in the Middle East and beyond, Gantz warned that the Islamic Republic was trying to “export its radical ideology” to different parts of the world while at the same time “disrupting global trade, harming democratic processes and dismantling countries.” He referred specifically to Tehran’s interventions in Iraq and Lebanon, and added: “Everything they are doing now is without nuclear capability. Imagine if they had that capability.”

Gantz said that as nuclear negotiations with Iran are about to be renewed, he “can support” an agreement with Iran if it will be “stronger, longer and broader” than the 2015 nuclear deal, including the dismantling of Iran’s capabilities and “effective inspections” both of nuclear sites and of Iran’s production system. Such an agreement, however, is a far cry from what Iran’s government has presented as its opening position for the negotiations in Vienna.

WATCH the full conference here. 

“This conference,” Gantz stated, “is not just about challenges, but also opportunities.” On that front, he explained, he is “more optimistic than ever” thanks to the signing last year of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, and the initiation of full diplomatic relations between these countries. He said that expanding these accords to other Arab countries is a real possibility.

Gantz also discussed his meeting in August with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who hosted the defense minister in his Ramallah compound. “I told him that regardless of our differences, nobody on either side is going anywhere, we have to learn to live side by side,” Gantz said. “We have an opportunity now to build trust and promote measures on the ground that create economic prosperity and benefit both sides.” Gantz called on the international community to invest in improving the Palestinian economy, in a way that would “contribute to peace and stability and create a foundation for a common future.”

At the end of his remarks, he also stated the importance of close relations between Israel and Jewish communities abroad, a subject that other senior Israeli officials who spoke at the conference also focused on.

The conference on Israeli national security is a joint project of Haaretz English Edition and the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies. The full conference can be viewed online here.

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