Shemen chairman and former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi discussed Israel's defense budget, gas exploration and the Iranian threat at the National Conference on Energy sponsored by Calcalist last week.
"We have an outstanding business and entrepreneurship community in Israel with a risk taking prowess. Israelis have a shrewdness that enables them to identify potential and develop it. In the twentieth century, the clash between capitalism and communism was resolved. In the twenty first century, it will be incumbent upon us to decide which form of capitalism we want," he said responding to a question concerning the reasons why the military is able to get things accomplished whereas the energy sector seems to be at a standstill.
Ashkenazi added: "Government and entrepreneurs should work hand in hand, more so in Israel which is a small country".
Ashkenazi said he was not surprised by the large number of army and defense veterans in the gas sector. "Those who don’t want to sell arms opt for this sector which is public and offers economic independence and a platform for political change.
"Our daily existence is fragile and we have an opportunity to cooperate with states that have no energy resources on the basis of market-making or investments. There's a strong enough incentive for dialogue here". Asked whether he took up the chairmanship for a short term just to look after his own interests, Ashkenazi said that he had never committed himself to a short tenure.
Ashkenazi also addressed the defense budget by remarking that he couldn't deem one budget better then another. "This is no time for risk-taking and the defense system should be given what it needs. I don’t want to get into a discussion about social needs versus defense needs".
Asked about Israel's ability to utilize offshore gas for the benefit of the country, he said: "We can't say we did everything in our power to bring the gas into the country. We are undergoing change and the industry is growing. For many years we were raised on the notion that Israel has no natural resources, only human capital. I belong to the school that maintains that we should do absolutely everything in our power to utilize the energy potential as soon as possible.
"As far as I'm concerned, our immediate effort should be towards production. The defense system, the economy, the public and the investors will only benefit from it. In a long-term perspective, we have to see where we can establish another coastal entry point for the gas".
Ashkenazi also addressed the Iranian issue. "I was raised on the notion that it’s better to do than to talk and this is true regarding the Iranian issue as well," he said. "I have been out of office for over a year and am not informed on all the details. Clearly such an issue is of public interest and I don't remember making such a big deal out of it. It's best to handle the issue behind closed doors.
"Since my retirement I've been sleeping much better because the responsibility is now in the professional hands of my friend Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz who is doing a great job. Generally speaking, when I look at how far we've come, I think we have a lot to be proud of. We will always have problems because we live in a dangerous neighborhood but Israel has the strongest military in the region and despite our problems, the people are still here – even if the road is long and frustrating".
Speaking about Israel's defense systems, including the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, Ashkenazi said that a balance should be struck between civil protection and offensive capabilities. "The question is where that elusive balance point is. We can be proud of Iron Dome because it's an astounding achievement. Two objects colliding in mid-air at a speed of three mach is an astonishing accomplishment."
Referring to the defense of the offshore gas drilling, Ashkenazi said that he has yet to hear of anyone who relinquished their obligation to defend Israel's natural resources. "The Navy should specifically protect the field and there is no doubt in my mind that the Navy assumes this responsibility. We have intelligence prowess and perhaps occasionally we will have to deal with events in a manner with which society knows how to carry its burdens. The owners of the Tethys Sea rig guard the reservoir but the Navy protects them from the direction of the Gaza coast'.
Ashkenazi told the audience about the transition from the military system to the civilian business market: "I hold a public position which entails the responsibility for public funds. There's no substitute for experience and today I'm doing lots of things for the first time, such as the pre-IPO evaluation of an energy reservoir. Management is management".
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