Those headlines—from the New York Times, Reuters, and CNN respectively—are typical of a media firestorm kicked up on Thursday by an Independence Day interview that Israeli chief of staff Benny Gantz gave to Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz.
The reports contrast Gantz’s allegedly pacific statements with recent hawkish statements by his boss, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
In an interview to CNN on Tuesday, Netanyahu said sanctions were “certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy, but so far they haven’t rolled back the Iranian program or even stopped it by one iota…so if the sanctions are going to work they better work soon.”
On whether Iran’s nuclear program is for civilian purposes: “They said it’s for medical isotopes. Right? That’s why they’re developing ICBMs to carry medical isotopes to Europe or Israel or the United States.”
And on Iranian rationality: “When it comes to a militant Islamic regime I wouldn’t be too sure, because unlike, say, the Soviets, they can put their ideology before their survival. So I don’t think you can bet on their rationality.”
And in a Holocaust Remembrance Day speech last week, Netanyahu said Iran was “feverishly working to develop atomic weapons….”
Now, what did Gantz say, and was it indeed seriously at odds with Netanyahu’s words? If so, it could be of significance. The fact that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, another Iran hawk, did not order a strike on Iran while Gantz’s predecessor as chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, was in office has been attributed to the fact that Ashkenazi and other security chiefs at the time were Iran doves who opposed a strike.
Gantz begins his interview to Haaretz by saying: “If Iran goes nuclear it will have negative dimensions for the world, for the region, for the freedom of action Iran will permit itself.” Later, regarding American and Israeli perceptions of the threat, he says: “We aren’t two oceans away from the problem—we live here with our civilians, our women and our children, so we interpret the extent of the urgency differently.”
So far, then, no great daylight between Gantz and Netanyahu.