Gaza war, AP, 2009
A cloud of smoke billows over Gaza after an Israel Defense Forces strike during the 2009 war. Photo by AP / Archive
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Hamas asked Hezbollah to fire rockets on northern Israel during Operation Cast Lead, but the Lebanese militant group refused, Maj. Gen. (res.) Dan Harel said on Tuesday.

Harel was deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces during the 2008-2009 military offensive in Gaza.

Harel, who spent most of his career in the Artillery Corps, made the comments at the first international Conference on Fire and Combined Arms in an Urban Terrain, held at the Artillery Association headquarters in Zichron Yaakov.

Harel said the massive firepower the IDF employed against Hamas infrastructure and positions led Hamas to entirely change its "battle rationale" during Cast Lead.

"It simply avoided conflict, and IDF forces found it very difficult to locate and fight the enemy because of the force of firepower employed," Harel said.

He said the IDF learned then that "Hamas had asked Hezbollah twice to fire rockets at the northern border, but Hezbollah decided to stay out of it."

Hezbollah has not fired rockets at Israel since the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War. IDF experts attribute the relative calm on the country's northern border to Hezbollah's fear of a devastating response to any attack on Israel that could undermine the group's standing in Lebanon.

Harel said those who plan the military operations are more attuned than ever to the effects of warfare on civilian populations, and that Cast Lead was the first time in his military career in which operational planning included extended consideration of "legality and legitimacy."

That planning, which involved legal experts, gave greater priority than ever before to avoiding inflicting damage upon civilian populations, he said, even though Israel was widely criticized for harming civilians during the operation.

Outgoing IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi said the first wave of IDF aerial attacks, which began December 27, 2008, destroyed more than 60 percent of Hamas' rocket launch sites. He attributed the IDF's heightened operational ability to an "inter-war readiness" based on precise information about Hamas infrastructure.

Still, he said, sound intelligence and long-range strikes will not be enough to win future wars, and the army will have to enhance its ability to "integrate firepower methods with ground maneuvers."