Israel Military Chief: Army Has Full Freedom of Action in West Bank

Senior officer, on assault on AFP photographers: We have nothing to hide, officer's conduct was unacceptable.

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IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (L) and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (L) and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.Credit: Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry
Amos Harel
Barak Ravid

The Israel Defense Forces has full freedom of action in the West Bank, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said Tuesday, in an apparent rebuttal to recent claims by right-wing cabinet ministers and Knesset members that the army’s “hands are tied” in addressing Palestinian terror in the territories. “Unfortunately, in recent days there have been more than a few disturbances caused by a handful of Jews that interfere with our ability to focus on the war against Palestinian terror,” he added.

A senior Central Command officer said IDF commanders in the West Bank feel they have full operational freedom. “No one is tying our hands. Any action we recommended was approved,” he told reporters.

The officer justified the dismissal of a Givati Brigade deputy company commander whose soldiers assaulted two Agence France-Presse photographers near Nablus and broke their cameras last month. Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, both of them from coalition partner Habayit Hayehudi, said the officer’s suspension expressed “lack of support for commanders and combat soldiers.”

The Central Command officer said the Givati commander was suspended because his conduct was unprofessional, and that no external attempts were made to influence the battalion, brigade and division commanders.

“The officer failed personally, He didn’t just confiscate equipment, he grabbed cameras and smashed them on the ground. He also didn’t report the incident,” the Central Command officer said. He rejected the suspended officer’s claim that the reporters “had interfered and stopped him from saving lives,” and that he had been trying to prevent them from photographing classified equipment in his military vehicle. “[The suspended officer] wasn’t doing lifesaving work. He was doing what he should not have been doing in the framework of his mission and so he was dismissed,” the senior officer said.

“The vast majority of the [IDF’s] activity in Judea and Samaria is serious and professional. Anything can be photographed. We have nothing to be ashamed of, even if it doesn’t always look very good,” the Central Command officer said. He added that the Central Command recently prohibited soldiers from wearing masks when dealing with Palestinian demonstrations, The directive was given following an incident in which a Golani Brigade soldier wearing a mask was filmed attempting to arrest a Palestinian teen suspected of throwing stones near the village of Nebi Saleh and clashed with some Palestinian women. There is no reason for combat soldiers to cover their faces except when they are on undercover duties with special units, the officer said.

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