TEL AVIV – The IDF is working to combat the Gazan tunnel threat, which is first on the IDF’s list of priorities. It has deployed nearly 100 engineering vehicles to the border to locate and destroy the Hamas underground passages into Israel, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (pictured) said.
Speaking at a commemorative event on Tuesday for late IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Eisenkot said a wide-ranging operation in Gaza was not in the cards.
“Those who don’t know the reality in the field are calling for an Operation Defensive Shield 2,” he said, referencing Israel’s 2002 anti-terror operation in the West Bank. “Those who know the reality know that Defensive Shield 2 isn’t relevant in the field.”
Eisenkot was cagey about the possibility of a preemptive strike on Gaza, saying the option was “being discussed in the places it needs to be discussed.”
He further stated that the army is doing a great deal to combat the tunnel threat, but that much of it was hidden from the public. He spoke of “advanced capabilities,” which pundits believe may refer to the development of a tunnel detection system.
Eisenkot said it is imperative to separate terrorists from innocent Palestinians, so the latter are able to “make a living and have hope. There’s a clear Israeli interest, beyond the ethical matter, in solving the economic trouble of Palestinians.”
He added, “We need to strictly abide by the law and the IDF code. The IDF has accepted responsibility for the territories and it is the ruler.”
Eisenkot said that while the Palestinian leadership is guilty of inciting Palestinians to terrorism – especially via the media – he did not think that the latest wave of violence was the result of a specific “source guiding it.”
“About 90-95 percent of the attacks are being carried out by young men and women, unmarried, who make a decision,” he said. “They see incitement in the media and understand that it’s right [to commit a terror attack] for that idea.”
He contended that social networks have become the new commanders and it is incumbent upon Western countries to fight incitement.
“In terrorist interrogations we perform, there’s a recurring motif that affects everyone and makes them want to grab a knife, and the same viral nature explains the scale of 15,000 worldwide youths who join the IS,” he said, mentioning that thus far 50-70 Israeli Arabs have already joined the terror group.
Moreover, Eisenkot said he believes defeating terrorism is possible.
“We’ve proven in fact that suicide bomber terrorism can be defeated. We have been asked throughout the years – if we have defeated Palestinian terrorism, suicide bomber terrorism, how is it that it has continued to draw blood? This is not the first intifada and not the second, we’re not seeing a leadership, not seeing Hamas. There’s a new pattern that is gaining internal empowerment from external events.”
According to Eisenkot, the IDF’s “operative-tactical pattern” was flawed when it came to knife attacks.
“When I look at our experience in the face of murderous terrorism, I’d say that we invest first and foremost in intelligence superiority. This perception is based on very high intelligence abilities, it’s the main reason for the defeat of suicide bomber terrorism and for having a decent security situation over the years. Everyone at home has a kitchen and knives, and you take a knife, put it in your pocket, and go perpetrate a terror attack.”
Eisenkot also addressed the concerns of Gaza border town residents who have complained of hearing and feeling tunnels being dug and are afraid the tunnels may reach their homes. According to Eizenkot, ” During [Operation] Protective Edge, the IDF took care of 33 tunnel axes. Our enemies aren’t abandoning this issue. Hamas chooses to direct a lot of resources to preserving a pattern of action, which creates, according to their perception, a balance against Israel with which to insert covert forces and perpetrate attacks. It’s a big challenge and we are not letting the quiet in the south fool us. 2015 is the quietest year the south has seen.”
He added, “The threat of offensive tunneling is the number one mission this year. There’s widespread activity consisting of initiatives and of us searching for every possible idea to neutralize this threat. We have advanced abilities. A mid-process report by the comptroller was published and there’s talk in the media. We make great efforts that are hidden from the public’s eye, and anyone who comes to the area will see 100 engineering tools at work. The question of whether there’s a need for advanced preventative offensive action should be discussed in the appropriate places.”
In an unprecedented move, Eisenkot also spoke out against Breaking the Silence – an NGO established by former soldiers that has been criticized for sullying Israel’s image overseas.
“Your duty as a soldier is to report an illegal order in real time, not to come to a conference years later and say ‘I am breaking silence.’ It’s what’s demanded of you, it’s not your right, it’s your duty,” said the Chief of Staff.
He also said that the IDF’s legal department should follow up on any testimonies given by veteran soldiers that claim to be in violation of the laws of war.