Israeli Army Responds 'Disproportionately' to Gaza Rocket Fire, Chief of Staff Says

Speaking to Knesset panel, chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot reveals that IDF has started targeting Hamas tunnels using a new method, but stresses the tunnel threat isn't existential to Israel.

Palestinians run for cover as smoke rises following an Israeli air strike on a Hamas post, in the northern Gaza Strip on February 6, 2017.
Palestinians run for cover as smoke rises following an Israeli air strike on a Hamas post, in the northern Gaza Strip on February 6, 2017. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED

The Israeli army reacts "disproportionately" to rocket fire toward Israel's border from Gaza, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told a parliamentary panel Wednesday morning.

"The Israel Defense Force employs a policy of using aggressive, and disproportionate, force in order to prevent situations in which they fire rockets at us and we return shells," Eisenkot told the State Control Committee. "For us, there is one address in the Strip: Hamas."

The chief of staff went to elaborate that Israel does not "attack sand dunes or empty storehouses. Every rocket or shell we fired was toward a target of value. [Such as] manufacturing means," Eisenkot said. "Hundreds of targets have been attacked since Operation Protective Edge (the Israeli campaign against Gaza in the summer of 2014)."

The chief of staff was summoned before the State Control Committee on Wednesday pursuant to the state comptroller's report on Operation Protective Edge, which was published this February. The report dwelled extensively on Israeli military activity against the so-called "terror tunnels" dug by Hamas between the Gaza Strip and Israeli territory.

"Looking back with a perspective of two-and-a-half years after Operation Protective Edge, the reality in Gaza is volatile," Eisenkot said today. "The IDF's basic test is the test of ability. Every morning we ask ourselves what we are up against, not what the leaders are thinking. They continue to dig [tunnels] underground and to build their abilities and defensive capabilities."

IDF Gaza
AFP

The chief of staff also confirmed for the first time that the IDF has struck Hamas tunnels after the 2014 Gaza war using a new method. "We've attacked with capabilities that we've developed to harm them, and since Operation Protective Edge hundreds of targets have been hit to clarify the policy that we want," he said.

He added that Hamas has continued to dig tunnels and improve its weapon stashes, and that it is trying to achieve more accurate abilities as well as aerial defense capabilities.

Even though the work the Israeli army faces is very intensive, Eisenkot said, and despite the "very serious threat" that the tunnels pose, the security situation is "good." "Our role is to work hard and for civilians to live their lives and work the fields, to the last furrow."

The tunnels do not pose a strategic or existential threat, just as the IDF never did define suicide attackers as existential threats to the State of Israel, Eisenkot clarified. "Since Operation Protective Edge, we have devoted enormous resources, and given the mission top priority in the IDF [to countering the threat of the tunnels.]"

For instance, the chief of staff said, since Operation Protective Edge, no less than 1.2 billion shekels were earmarked for dealing with the tunnels. The cabinet also resolved to create some sort of barrier, including some sort of radar system, for which 3 billion shekels more have been earmarked, he said. "We prioritized emergency preparedness, defensive and aggressive."

A Hamas attack tunnel leading from the Gaza Strip into Israel, which the Israeli army discovered, May 6, 2016.
Ilan Assayag

The extent of the underground threat revealed during Operation Protective Edge is the greatest the Israeli army has faced since its establishment, Eisenkot told the committee. More than 30 tunnels designed to mount attacks against Israel were found, of which a third had reached sovereign Israeli territory. With these tunnels, he said, Hamas managed to kill 13 Israeli soldiers and indeed, to mount missions within Israel.

"Happily, not one civilian was hurt," he said. "But the threat is very grave and we don’t need to elaborate further in its description."

The IDF's campaign against the 30-plus tunnels depended on high quality intelligence, Eisenkot said, adding that the sheer physics of handling the tunnels is a challenge.

While the focus then and now has been on Israel's south and the subterranean threat, in fact the IDF faces a great many threats, Eisenkot said – the border with Sinai, terrorism in the West Bank, and the boundaries in the north with Lebanon and Syria.

"The IDF has to contend simultaneously with five fronts, and over everything is that very negatively charged umbrella, the Iranian threat," said the chief of staff. "The IDF is contending with four circles of threat: subconventional, conventional that still exists, unconventional, which is the supreme mission, and the threat in the cybernetic dimension." The lessons of Operation Protective Edge led the army to define the area of the Gaza Strip as a target of much the same importance as Lebanon, he said.

"From conversations with the superpowers, I don't know of better technologies than the IDF has," Eisenkot finished. "I say that with all due humbleness to the U.S. and South Korea. We have the most advanced abilities, yet gaps remain. The underground threat is very serious." And even so, the chief of staff said, "It would not be right to call it existential or strategic or to terrorize ourselves or our people."