TEL AVIV – IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot warned Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ most powerful commander, Qassem Soleimani, that he and his Quds Force were endangering their future by attempting to entrench themselves militarily in Syria.
Eisenkot said Saturday that Iran was looking to “strangle Israel from Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip” according to remarks made during two separate interviews with Israeli news channels that were translated by The Times of Israel. However, he added, Iran was “a long way from achieving that goal.”
As a result, the outgoing IDF chief said, Iran was “scaling back” its activities.
One interviewer asked Eisenkot why Soleimani, whose Quds Force was overseeing Iran’s military activity in Syria, was still alive.
“Are you weighing, or did you weigh, hitting him?” the Hadashot TV news anchor asked.
Eisenkot replied obliquely that “he who acts against us puts himself in danger” and added that “I don’t want to issue threats.”
Channel 10, meanwhile, asked Eisenkot: “Why is he still alive?”
Eisenkot responded, “That’s a question.”
The interviewer probed the IDF chief: “If it was up to you?”
Eisenkot did not respond.
He said that while Israel was safer than it was four years ago when he took up the post, the country still has to overcome many challenges with perhaps the most critical being the twin threat of a nuclear Iran and the Islamic Republic’s plans to surround the Jewish state by deepening its presence in Syria and bolstering its Lebanese terror proxy, Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah has a number of capabilities,” Eisenkot said. “Among them a sophisticated plan to conquer parts of Israel [in a future conflict]. This was the flagship project of Hezbollah. The second plan was to build up its precise weapons capabilities to hit large-scale, specific targets in Israel.”
“As of right now, Hezbollah does not have precise capabilities to hit Israeli targets; its capabilities are marginal,” Eisenkot said.
Earlier this week, the IDF chief repeated the claim that Hezbollah was planning to use its network of cross-border tunnels to carry out a surprise attack that would “throw Israel off balance and cause an earthquake in Israeli society.”
Fortunately, Eisenkot added, Hezbollah’s plans had been ruined with the IDF’s operation to destroy the tunnels.
“They wanted to build an intelligence operation on the Israeli border; we destroyed these efforts and they do not exist today,” he said.
The IDF on Sunday announced the end of Operation Northern Shield with the discovery and imminent destruction of the last attack tunnel.
Eisenkot also gave an interview to The New York Times in which he said that Israel has carried out “thousands of [Iranian] targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit.” he said.
Eisenkot also said Israel needed to focus on Iran as opposed to secondary enemies such as Hamas in Gaza.
“When you fight for many years against a weak enemy,” he said of Hamas, “it also weakens you.”
In 2018 alone, Israel dropped 2,000 bombs on Iranian targets, he said.
Soleimani in response launched 30 rockets towards Israel last May, but all of them failed to hit their targets.
Soleimani, he said, erred by being overconfident in his capabilities and underestimating Israel’s determination to act against Iran in the region.
“His error was choosing a playground where he is relatively weak,” Eisenkot said. “We have complete intelligence superiority in this area. We enjoy complete aerial superiority. We have strong deterrence and we have the justification to act.”
“The force we faced over the last two years was a determined force,” he added, “but not very impressive in its capabilities.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday confirmed that Israel conducted an airstrike against Iranian warehouses storing weapons at the international airport in Damascus.
“The accumulation of recent attacks proves that we are determined more than ever to take action against Iran in Syria, just as we promised,” he said.
He also thanked Eisenkot for his service to the country.
“The IDF has major achievements under your command,” he said. “We worked with impressive success to block Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria.”