Author: YONAH JEREMY BOB
Posted on March 22, 2017
The threat of Hamas tunnels is grave, but it does not constitute an existential or strategic threat to Israel, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said Wednesday, as he defended the IDF’s performance in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking before the Knesset Control Committee on Wednesday, Eisenkot responded to criticism raised in last month’s State Comptroller report on the 2014 Gaza war.
The report highlighted the IDF’s failure to prepare for the Hamas tunnel threat, slammed the IDF for intelligence failures, suggested that the war was possibly unnecessary and should not have dragged on for 50 days.
Eisenkot made public comments before the committee followed by a classified session behind closed doors.
The IDF chief welcomed the Comptroller report, saying that it aided the IDF in the process it had already begun immediately after the war of learning the lessons of Operation Protective Edge.
He acknowledged that the attack tunnels led to the deaths of 13 IDF soldiers, saying that it marked the first time the army had dealt with full-fledged underground warfare. Eisenkot added, however, that the IDF did manage to find and destroy 31 tunnels, a feat which would not have been possible without excellent intelligence work.
The IDF chief stated that, while the tunnels constitute a serious threat, they are just one of many threats that Israel is facing, including Hezbollah, Hamas rockets, the Iranian nuclear threat, as well terror from Sinai and the West Bank.
However, the IDF has dedicated resources to combat the tunnel threat, Eisenkot said, both from Hamas and from Hezbollah in the North. He said that the army had dedicated an additional NIS 1.2 billion to the tunnel issue and around NIS 3 billion to improve intelligence in 2016, as well as establishing special units to deal with the underground threat.
He acknowledged that there were still shortcomings in the preparedness to deal with tunnels, but claimed that Israel was more advanced than any other country, including the US, at doing so.
“Hamas tunnels are not an existential or strategic threat, even as [the threat] is grave and we must deal with it,” he told the Committee.
Defending the IDF’s performance during Operation Protective Edge, he said that the result has been a period of quiet on the Gaza border unparalleled in the last 40 years.
The IDF chief also discussed the way the army had adjusted to dealing with the Hamas rocket threat in order to maintain deterrence.
“We had an arrangement in which they fired a rocket and we fired shells. We learned we could not tolerate this,” the IDF chief stated. “Now, if Hamas or anyone from Gaza fires a rocket, we hit valuable Hamas targets – not empty locations of small arms. It gives us more deterrence.”