IDF chief to Haaretz: I do not believe Iran will decide to develop nuclear weapons (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Amos Harel 04/25/12)
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"If Iran goes nuclear it will have negative dimensions for the world,
for the region, for the freedom of action Iran will permit itself,"
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told Haaretz in an Independence
That freedom of action might be expressed "against us, via the force
Iran will project toward its clients: Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic
Jihad in Gaza. And there´s also the potential for an existential
threat. If they have a bomb, we are the only country in the world
that someone calls for its destruction and also builds devices with
which to bomb us. But despair not. We are a temperate state. The
State of Israel is the strongest in the region and will remain so.
Decisions can and must be made carefully, out of historic
responsibility but without hysteria," Gantz said.
Both 2012 and 2013 are seen as critical with regard to Iran´s nuclear
program. At his rare public appearances Gantz has taken a cautious
approach to the issue - mentioning the military option, whose
development and preparation he oversees, while leaving the door open
to international negotiations with Iran. His language is far from the
dramatic rhetoric of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and is
usually free of the Holocaust comparisons of which Israeli
politicians are so fond.
Asked whether 2012 is also decisive for Iran, Gantz shies from the
term. "Clearly, the more the Iranians progress the worse the
situation is. This is a critical year, but not necessarily ´go, no-
go.´ The problem doesn´t necessarily stop on December 31, 2012. We´re
in a period when something must happen: Either Iran takes its nuclear
program to a civilian footing only or the world, perhaps we too, will
have to do something. We´re closer to the end of the discussions than
Gantz says the international pressure on Iran, in the form of
diplomatic and economic sanctions, is beginning to bear fruit. "I
also expect that someone is building operational tools of some sort,
just in case. The military option is the last chronologically but the
first in terms of its credibility. If it´s not credible it has no
meaning. We are preparing for it in a credible manner. That´s my job,
as a military man."
Iran, Gantz says, "is going step by step to the place where it will
be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn´t
yet decided whether to go the extra mile."
As long as its facilities are not bomb-proof, "the program is too
vulnerable, in Iran´s view. If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a
nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken. It will happen if
Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a response. I believe he
would be making an enormous mistake, and I don´t think he will want
to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of
very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the
hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make
different calculations, is dangerous."
About three months ago Gantz´s U.S. counterpart, Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, visited Israel as his
guest. "We speak a great deal with the Americans. It´s not on the
level of a discussion, where I want something concrete and he forbids
it. We are partners. We and the United States have a large common
alignment of interests and relations, but America looks at America
and Israel [looks at] Israel. 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.
America says its piece openly, and what it says in the media is also
said behind closed doors. It cannot be translated into lights, red or
green, because no one is asking them anything in that regard."
Gantz knows that in the event of another war he will face time
pressures as a result of enemy operations against the home front. The
IDF will have to bring massive force to bear from the outset,
employing most of the means at its disposal quickly and without
hesitation or delay.
Ground operations, long-distance fire and in-depth operations as well?
"I don´t pretend to determine that now. I am preparing for full
deployment of our capabilities. The political leadership will have to
take courageous, painful decisions. There are a certain number of
critical decisions in a war. The chief of staff makes about 10 of
these in his sphere of responsibility in wartime, and the political
leadership makes about half this number."
These decisions, Gantz knows, will be made under a barrage of rockets
and missiles against civilian areas.
In light of the Arab Spring, Israel´s military preparedness must now
include a much greater and more varied range of arenas and
"I don´t know what will happen in Syria, but presumably the Golan
Heights won´t be as quiet as before. I cannot remove Syria from the
military equation, nor Lebanon. I assume that if there are terror
threats from the Golan or Lebanon I´ll have to take action. I cannot
do everything by ´stand-off´ [remote]. The enemy´s fire capabilities
have developed at every distance, four or five times what they were
in the Second Lebanon War and four or five times compared to the Gaza
Strip before Operation Cast Lead, not to mention the new ground-to-
air missile in Syria. I go to sleep with the understanding that what
we did in the recent long and comprehensive exercises could happen in
The IDF is also being used as a battlefield for the cultural and
political wars of outside forces. The latest skirmish followed
Gantz´s dismissal of Lt. Col. Shaul Eisner, deputy commander of the
IDF´s Jordan Valley brigade, for hitting a left-wing activist from
Denmark in the face with a rifle. Gantz terms the political
interference in the affair a disaster.
"I don´t see anyone benefiting from this story. I made my decision,
and it´s behind me. I don´t understand what the right is defending,
what the left is attacking. Who turned it into a political matter? Do
you have to be a religious right-winger with a kippah in order to be
resolute? Do you have to be a leftist in order to be principled?
Where did that idiocy come from? Eisner made a professional error and
a specific ethical mistake."
The interview with Gantz took place right after additional videos of
the incident were made public, showing Eisner hitting additional left-
"I didn´t like even the first blow I saw. I will not cover for people
so that others will say I backed them up. The lieutenant colonel
erred and failed, and it´s done and dusted. We are an army that uses
force, not violence."
Measured, thoughtful and practical
With regard to another delicate issue, Gantz says he believes the IDF
could draft more ultra-Orthodox men if an alternative to the Tal Law,
recently overturned by the High Court of Justice, can be found.
"It´s for the politicians to decide. What I´m looking for is equality
in service," he says.
The end of his predecessor´s assignment was tarnished by the so-
called Harpaz affair, in which Lt. Col. Boaz Harpaz allegedly forged
a document in a bid to keep Yoav Galant from being appointed chief of
staff. Gantz received the draft report of the State Comptroller´s
Office on the affair last month. When the final version is issued
Gantz will face career decisions about several figures connected to
the affair, including Col. Erez Weiner, aide to former Chief of Staff
Gantz believes it is important that the final version be issued
before State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss ends his term, at the
beginning of July.
"At every opportunity I say to the comptroller, please, go to it."
As in our previous conversations, now too Gantz comes across as a
measured, thoughtful and practical person. Only a few dozen steps
separate him from his previous office, that of the deputy chief of
staff, but the distance between them is unfathomable.
"I enjoy being here but also feel the gravity of the responsibility.
I always said my favorite position was company commander in the
Paratroop Brigade. As a company commander you have absolute
definitions: the mission, the people. The rest we can manage. Here, I
can´t pass on the responsibility to anyone else. The buck really does
stop here. That´s why I say that occasionally I doze off but I never
really sleep." (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 04/25/12)
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