Israel's Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks at AIPAC  in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2019.
Israel's Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks at AIPAC in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2019.

WASHINGTON - Benny Gantz, who is posing a stiff challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in upcoming elections, said Monday he would not hesitate to use force on Iran to contain the regional rival.

In a speech to the US pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, Gantz also spelled out further his views on peace prospects with the Palestinians, insisting that Israel's military will always control security in the West Bank.

The centrist former military chief showed no daylight with Netanyahu on peace and security matters – but won standing ovations from the American Jewish audience by raising domestic issues, including promising more inclusiveness at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism's holiest site.

Citing his mother's experience as a Holocaust survivor and his son's service in the military, Gantz said that "strength and moral power come together."

"That is why I say from this stage to the Iranian regime -- never again. We will not allow you to establish yourself in Syria, we will not allow you to develop nuclear weapons," he said.

"On my watch, you will not become a regional power and I will not hesitate to use force if and when needed," he said.

Gantz said that Jerusalem – also claimed by the Palestinians – would always remain Israel's "united and eternal capital" and said, without ruling out a Palestinian state in the West Bank, that the Jordan Valley will "always" be Israel's eastern security border.

"Responsibility for the security of the land of Israel will remain in the hands of the IDF and the IDF alone," he said, referring to the Israel Defense Forces.

FILE - Retired Israeli military chief Benny Gantz speaks at the official launch of his election campaign for the April 2019 polls, in Tel Aviv, Jan. 29, 2019.
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He said, however, that he was open to negotiations with the Arab world, amid Netanyahu's efforts to make peace with Gulf Arabs that oppose Iran.

"To those who would like to turn a new page, we will extend our hand in peace and we will strive for peace with any honest Arab leader," he said.

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