The recently retired chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, gave an important talk this morning at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, summing up the current state of Israeli security. You can watch the whole thing (it’s in English) here.
I’ll have a fuller analysis of what’s new and what’s not new in his talk after the weekend. For now, though, I’ve transcribed his comments about the Iran nuclear agreement. As you read it, you’ll note that there’s a not-too-subtle dissent from — perhaps even a rebuke of — the approach that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies have taken both toward interpreting the Iranian issue and toward managing relations with the American government.
I’ll leave out the speed with which the dreaded threat of Iranian weaponry has disappeared from Israel’s political agenda and been replaced by the supposedly equally deadly threat of teenagers throwing stones. Gotta love it.
Anyhow, here’s Benny Gantz:
I do agree that a better deal could have been reached. I do see the challenge that the theoretical enrichment rights that the Iran might have gained and this is indeed a challenge. But I also see the half-full part of the glass here. I see the achievement of keeping away the Iranians for 10 to 15 years into the future and postponing their capabilities of having a nuclear capability and with the right price.
Usually they have said that war is an extension of the political activities. In our world you have political activities and if they do not succeed then you use war. Well, they have had political activities and they have saved a war,which I think is not bad in and of itself.
Now, I am not naïve. I understand who we are dealing with. I understand why the Iranians want to possess nuclear capabilities. I understand that we must look into the future and I think this is what we need to suggest.
And I would look at the deal as it is. It’s a done deal. Let’s look forward. And in looking forward, I would definitely promote, most importantly, the intel capabilities and the intel cooperation between the entire organizations of the country to make sure to expand, as much as we can, the known areas versus the unknown areas. And if they stay unknown then we know that they are unknown, and you all know this sentence — I cannot repeat it, right?
But we must extend our intel capabilities. We must continue to build defensive and offensive capabilities that will be used as deterrents, or as an operational means when and if needed in future times.
We must strengthen the others around and do everything in our capacity to prevent the need of a nuclear race. Currently I don’t see the need for one — from our perspective, I don’t know what the others might think — because if you can ensure that Iran doesn’t get it, so why would the Saudis have it? Et cetera, et cetera.
And last but not least I would even dare to say that there is a need to reach out to the Iranian people themselves, which have a very large base of westernized aspect. They want to live their lives. They see the Internet just the way you and me see it. And let’s turn it into a kind of a honey-trap if you wish for future times.
Now, from what I know, and I think I know, and from what I assess, and I think I have a basis to assess it, I am not worried about Israel’s security situation. We are the strongest country in the world [? Sic]. We know how to take care of ourselves. And this issue is a worldwide issue that inflects the Bab el-Mandeb and all those sea trails. It affects the region. And then it has to do with us. Not the other way around. It’s not an Israeli issue and then a regional issue and then a world challenge. It’s the other way around. It’s a world challenge. Let the world deal with it. It’s a regional challenge. Let’s see how the region deals with it. And we will stay strong as we are.
So I refuse to get hysterical on this. And I think we need to look into the future. And I understand that the United States of America has suggested it. And I am sure that the state of Israel will be there. And we should continue to promote our capabilities to face a negative development if it arises down the future.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).