IDF chief visits Ottawa on ‘farewell tour’

Gen. Tom Lawson, left, greets Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz in Ottawa. NIMROD SUSMAN, ISRAELI EMBASSY PHOTO

For three days this week, Israeli Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz was in Toronto and Ottawa as part of what Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) dubbed his “farewell tour.”

Gantz, chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), met his Canadian counterpart, Gen. Tom Lawson, as well as other senior military and defence department officials and held “high-level discussions on military and security issues.”

Then it was on to Washington, where Gantz again made the rounds, meeting senior military and defence officials.

It’s a measure of the high regard and close relations between the two countries that Gantz visited Canada, said Col. Adam Susman, the defence attaché of Israel to Canada. Gantz is set to retire from his role atop the IDF, and Canada was on his short list of countries to visit, Susman said.

Susman, who assumed his post in mid-summer for three years, accompanied Gantz on his travels in Canada. The relationship between the Canadian and Israeli militaries is friendly and respectful, he said.

Canadians clearly see it the same way. “Israel is Canada’s closest ally in the Middle East, and our two countries enjoy strong military relations on a variety of fronts,” Lawson said. “This bond has been strengthened under Gen. Gantz’s watch, and reinforced by today’s meeting. It has been a pleasure working with Gen. Gantz during his tenure as chief of the general staff, and I wish him success in his future endeavours.”

Although he wasn’t available for an interview with The CJN, Gantz expressed his deep appreciation to his Canadian colleague for the Canadian involvement in the changes in the Middle East and specifically for the Canadian efforts to combat the Islamic State. According to the DND, Gantz suggested further intensification of military co-operation between Canada and Israel.

Gantz’s visit comes in the aftermath of the January 2014 Strategic Partnership Memorandum of Understanding, which committed the two countries to develop their bilateral relationship, including defence and security.

“Canada and Israel enjoy close military relations at all levels, including co-operation in the areas of counter-terrorism, training, search and rescue, intelligence, command and control and new technologies,” DND stated in a news release.

“The DND and Canadian Armed Forces have deepened our ongoing interactions and continue to share best practices with the Israeli Special Operations through training visits, exchanges and participation in exercises.

“Canada’s defence relationship with Israel has brought us considerable operational benefit through the exchange and purchase of Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles and counter-improvised explosive device equipment,” DND stated.

A key part of Susman’s job is to facilitate those exchanges and foster the relationship between the Canadian military and Israeli defence industries.

“The relationship between Canada and Israel is very good,” he said. “The two prime ministers are very close, and things are going on between the ministry of defence and the military. There is quite a lot of co-operation between the countries and the militaries.”

Susman said his appointment as military attaché reflects the friendly relationship between the two countries and reciprocates Canada’s posting of a full-time defence attaché in Tel Aviv.

“It shows we mean business. We’re serious in upgrading our relationship,” he said.

Susman arrived in Canada right around the time Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, the IDF campaign to end Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza.

“Every few days, I gave [Canadian officers] a briefing if they wanted, and they wanted,” he said.

That helped inform Canadian soldiers about the difficulties of “underground warfare,” a reference to terror tunnels uncovered by the IDF. “Israel is a place where we have many lessons learned regarding urban warfare and underground warfare, and Canada can take Israel’s lessons learned.”

Susman also referenced the Islamic terrorist attacks this fall in Quebec and Ottawa, noting that Israel has had plenty of experience with domestic attacks and has knowledge it could relate to Canadian security personnel.

Susman is still getting used to life in Canada. He’s travelled to military bases across the country, including the West Coast, and he marvels at Ottawa’s snowy minus 26-degree weather as if there’s something special about it.