Netanyahu Demands Full Control Over Israel’s Iran Policy, Angering Gantz

YERUSHALAYIM -
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a Cabinet meeting. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are fighting over Israel’s policy on the Iran nuclear program, with Netanyahu seeking exclusive authority on the issue, a report on the Walla! news site said.

Netanyahu demanded full control of Israel’s Iran policy as Joe Biden prepares to assume the Oval Office, setting off a fierce fight at the highest echelons of Israel’s government, senior Israeli officials were quoted as saying in the report.

As per the report, Netanyahu is preparing to take a very hard line over Biden’s plan to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, in contrast with the more moderate approach favored by Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and the heads of Israel’s security services.

On Dec. 29, under orders from Netanyahu, National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat sent a one-sentence letter to Gantz: “According to the Prime Minister’s instructions the Israeli government position regarding the Iran nuclear deal will be finalized exclusively by the Prime Minister on the basis of analysis done by the national security council in the Prime Minister’s Office.”

The letter was also sent to Ashkenazi, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, Mossad director Yossi Cohen and IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

Apparently Gantz was stunned by Netanyahu’s letter and replied two days later with a letter of his own. Gantz wrote that the prime minister does indeed have the authority to finalize Israel’s position, but not to disregard almost the entire security establishment and intelligence community while also bypassing Israel’s Security Cabinet.

“The issue of security and mainly the Iranian file are not the personal business of just one person,” Gantz wrote. Gantz added that Israeli policy on the Iran deal must be the result of a broad analysis involving all of Israel’s national security and foreign policy agencies, rather than just the National Security Council, which reports directly to Netanyahu.

The timing of the argument — mere days before Biden assumes office, and in the midst of Israel’s election campaign — makes it even more sensitive and dangerous.

While all of the key players agree on the strategic goal of preventing Biden from agreeing to a deal that harms Israeli security, they seemingly disagree on tactics.