Speaking at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s 17th annual conference on Monday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett named Hezbollah and Iran as the greatest threats towards Israel.
Bennett spoke in a candid discussion with ICT head Dr. Boaz Gabor about the security challenges that Israel faces. While Bennett’s position in the government doesn’t typically involve dealing with terrorism, his background as a commander in Sayeret Matkal, an elite unit, and his participation in both Operation Protective Edge as well as the Second Lebanon War, gives him an adequate background to be considered an expert on the subject.
Bennett didn’t mince words. “I have no doubt that the nuclearization of Iran is the number one existential threat to the state of Israel,” he charged.
The tensions between Iran and Israel are amplified, he suggested, by the extreme asymmetry. “An attack on Iran would not destroy the country the way that an attack by Iran on Israel.” He added that, if given the opportunity, he would “absolutely” get rid of the nuclear deal with the country, and apply strong economic pressure on countries who do business with Iran.
Despite a a lack of on-the-ground fighting, Bennett said the animosity between the two states isn’t a “Cold War.” However, Israel’s recent bombing of a chemical weapons factory in Syria could be construed as the country entering into a proxy war with Iran.
In line with the national-religious inclinations of his party, Bayit Yehudi, Bennett charged that “modern Zionism has created a safe haven for the Jewish people, and Iran threatens this.”
He described the second greatest threat to Israel as its own policy of disengagement, and the consequences of this. Bennett noted the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and the subsequent takeover of the Strip by Hamas as proof this theory. He also suggested that the same scenario has played out with Hezbollah, saying that when Israel retreated from its positions in Lebanon, it allowed the group to prosper, and the growing strength of the group – bankrolled and armed by Iran – has led Israel to hold its largest military drill in 20 years in preparation of a possible war with the group.
“I would like to state this emphatically: Lebanon is Hezbollah and Hezbollah is Lebanon. A ballistic attack on Israel would be the equivalent of a declaration of war by the sovereign state of Lebanon.”
While Bennett’s current position doesn’t typically deal with terrorism, he had a lot to say. As he noted during the discussion with Ganor, it was at his urging – really, his ultimatum – that a weekly security cabinet meeting is now held every week to discuss matters of national security.
When questioned about the security cabinet and its decision-making powers, especially terms of security issues and in contrast to those of the defense minister and prime minister, Bennett reminded the audience that the cabinet is the commander in chief. Despite its military powers, he insisted that the leadership is sure to exhaust all options before exploring military possibilities. The government was heavily criticized for the somewhat hasty nature of its military usage during Operation Protective Edge. Throughout the discussion, Ganor referenced the infamous State Comptroller report from after the 2014 war, which heavily criticized the government’s actions.
The bottom line, Bennett said, is that “the state of Israel needs to make some tough decisions.”