Benny Gantz - Emil Salman - 16112011
Benny Gantz Photo by Emil Salman
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Continued rocket fire from the Gaza Strip is liable to lead to a large-scale Israel Defense Forces operation in Gaza, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned on Tuesday.

"The recent rounds of escalation and the harm to both the lives and daily routine of residents of the south is leading to the IDF being asked to undertake a significant offensive in the Gaza Strip," he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. But the army must not be dragged into such an operation, he said; any offensive must be a well-organized Israeli initiative.

"In the next round of fighting, we will have to shorten the duration of the fighting as much as possible," he continued. "This speed will rely on high-quality intelligence and a rapid pace of operations, and therefore, we must maintain the IDF's readiness and preserve its human resources. Otherwise, we are liable to undermine the achievement of the last four years" - the army's rehabilitation after the Second Lebanon War of 2006.

Gantz told the committee that attacks along the Egyptian border are no longer originating solely in Gaza; they are also coming "directly from Sinai," which now hosts a number of terrorist groups. As a result, while the main problem along the southern border used to be the infiltration of labor migrants, terror has now become a major problem as well.

He described the cross-border assault from Sinai that killed eight Israelis near Eilat in August as a failure on the IDF's part.

"Our fundamental assumptions collapsed," he admitted. "We thought it would happen at night, not in daytime, and we didn't think it would happen 200 meters from an Egyptian [army] outpost."

He also discussed the IDF's decision to attack an Islamic Jihad cell in Gaza two and a half weeks ago.

That strike, which killed five terrorists, was part of the most recent escalation in the south. But Gantz said it succeeded in "delaying the development of Islamic Jihad's rocket manufacturing network."

Despite the relative quiet in the West Bank since the Palestinian Authority applied for UN recognition as a state in September, Gantz said it was too soon to rest easy.

"The events and the situation have so far been contained," he said, but given the likelihood that the statehood bid will fail, "the chance of a violent outbreak still exists."

Gantz also discussed the letter he recently received from retired generals protesting the army's attitude toward women in the face of growing pressure from rabbis and religious soldiers.

The letter was "important," he said, "but it bothered me that it was sent to the media before it was sent to me."

He stressed that there is no ban on women singing in the army, and said he considers it very important that all Israelis be able to serve together in the IDF. That "is the heart of our civic strength, and I'll do everything I can to preserve it," he vowed.