Israel's Gantz Says He Would Oppose Iranian Designs in Syria, Gaza

(Bloomberg) -- In his first major speech on an international stage, Benjamin Netanyhu’s main challenger said he would oppose Iranian designs in Syria and the Gaza Strip and wouldn’t allow the Islamic Republic to get nuclear weapons on his watch.

Benny Gantz, the former Israeli military commander who founded the centrist Israel Resilience party earlier this year, said Sunday his approach to security wouldn’t actually differ much from the Israeli prime minister’s.

“When Israel’s security is under threat, there is no daylight between us,” Gantz said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference. "On this critical issue there is no right or left, coalition or opposition. When it comes to defending Israel, we are united.”

The speech was an opportunity for Gantz, a political novice who is emerging as a strong challenger ahead of April elections, to contest Netanyahu’s reputation as Mr. Security and show he can hold his own on the global stage. Netanyahu pulled out of the Munich conference following a trip to Warsaw for a Middle East summit last week that was riddled with missteps.

Gantz said Hezbollah was raising tensions with Israel to a point where the Iran-backed militia, whose extensive tunnel network under the Israeli border was recently disabled, is endangering Lebanon. Israel also contends the group has built advanced-missile factories in civilian neighborhoods of Beirut, with Iranian help. He called on Europe to pressure the group -- and Lebanon’s government, where Hezbollah holds key ministries -- by listing its political wing as a terrorist organization.

Netanyahu’s campaign has sought to discredit Gantz as a "leftist," a political slur in Israel that implies he’d give away the store in peace talks with the Palestinians. Gantz said an Israel under his leadership would pursue peace, but not naively so.

"Only a strong and secure Israel can guarantee a stable and long lasting peace which we all hope to achieve," said Gantz, who spoke in English and didn’t take questions. He didn’t offer specifics of how he might seek peace with the Palestinians, but said he would pursue initiatives for cooperation that would benefit all the region’s economies.

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