Opinion: The newly minted defense minister is as much of an Iran hawk as his boss, but from his new vantage point, he could be the only thing keeping Israel out of a potentially disastrous blunder that would do little to stave off Tehran’s nuclear ambitions

Incoming Defense Minister Yoav Gallant never made secret of his wish to one day man the 14th floor of the IDF headquarters, the Kirya. Now he is entering office during a very turbulent time, facing both the Iranian nuclear threat and the possible breakdown of order in the West Bank.

The Americans, the patrons of generations of Israeli defense ministers, will breathe down his neck to left, while far-right hawks Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir will breathe down his neck to the right.

הצהרהתם המשותפת של בנימין נתניהו ויואב גלנט בכנסת
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)


Smotrich holds both the finance portfolio and a ministerial position in the Defense Ministry, an arrangement that could prove very precarious for Gallant if he ever tries to keep Smotrich away from the IDF, as the defense chief might quickly find his friend with one hand on the budgetary spigot like a Tom & Jerry cartoon.

Gallant is a proponent of high defense spending, building up Israel’s missile arsenal, and maximum pressure to contain Iran’s entrenchment efforts in Syria as well as a potential Iranian incursion into Jordan. But from the defense minister’s post, he’s maybe in for a rude awakening on many of these issues.

One great example would be the gas agreement with Lebanon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gallant both upbraided the deal from the opposition benches and described it as an abject capitulation to Hezbollah that was bound to be ultimately annulled. I highly doubt any of them is actually going to rescind it now.

Gallant’s conduct will have great weight, perhaps even decisive, in any decision on Iran. To understand how important it is, let’s go back for a moment to the last two times Israel was posed with the question of whether to attack Iran’s nuclear program.

Netanyahu, then-defense minister Ehud Barak and then-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi
Netanyahu, then-defense minister Ehud Barak and then-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (Photo: Haim Tzach)


In 2011, with Netanyahu as prime minister, Ehud Barak as defense minister and Gabi Ashkenazi as IDF chief, the former two pushed for an air assault on Tehran’s nuclear facilities, throwing its nuclear ambitions years back.

Then-Mossad director Meir Dagan opposed the move, arguing it would only further push Iran to ramp up its efforts to obtain the Bomb.
Ashkenazi ultimately put a lid on the move, insisting that Israel did not actually possess the military clout to pull off such a feat.
And when the IDF chief says the IDF can’t, there’s not much the political echelon can do about it, even though the state had already sunk 11 billion shekels, or about $3 billion dollars, preparing for a strike.

Netanyahu and Barak tried their luck again a year later, but freshly minted Mossad director Tamir Pardo also flatly objected. IDF chief Benny Gantz also opposed, but unlike his predecessor, did not mention lacking operational capabilities.

Fordow nuclear facility
A nuclear facility in Fordow, Iran (Photo: AFP)


Netanyahu, Barak and then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman split the lobbying work between them in a bid to get the Cabinet to greenlight the strike.

The details about what happened next are murky. Netanyahu claimed that Barak made a volte-face on the whole plan, whereas Barak claimed that the operation fell victim to tight scheduling since weather conditions only allow such extensive, far-afield military action between May and November.

Israel asked the Americans to postpone a joint military drill that was planned for around that time and Washington obliged. It was pushed back to October, knowing that it would take weeks of preparations.

And then the Americans moved aircraft carriers to the mouth of the Arabian Gulf, which put the Iranians on high alert. It is possible that the Americans pulled off the maneuver on purpose to wake the Iranians up and foil an Israeli action. Either way, the operation was scrapped. There were those who suggested launching the operation during the joint exercise with the Americans. Barak rejected the idea outright.

A joint U.S.-Israeli drill
A joint U.S.-Israeli drill (Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)


Both Netanyahu and Barak suspected the other one caught cold feet. A historic opportunity was squandered. But on the other hand, perchance we might as well have avoided a historic blunder.

Netanyahu has recently been hammering in the idea that his return to power was a sign he must attack Iran. It’s his destiny, his redemption arc. He rules over his new Cabinet with an iron fist, and the only potential renegades there are those to his right, and they would approve such a strike in a heartbeat.

Attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities will give the government a major boost in the polls, but it will not stop Tehran’s race for the Bomb.

Hezbollah will unleash all its got on Israel, from precision-guided missiles to big, dumb rockets. Iran will also chip in with its own missiles. The toll, both in blood and treasure, will be massive, but tolerable according to optimistic forecasts. But the value?
Questionable at best.

All eyes are on the defense minister. He is the one who will either give Netanyahu the final push forward or talk him off the ledge. A decade ago, Barak did both things. I wonder what Gallant will do.

As reported by Ynetnews