Defense Minister Ya'alon: Gaza Fighting Won't Resume at Month's End

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Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday that fighting would not resume with the Gaza Strip at the end of this month, despite the difficulties in reaching a permanent Israel-Hamas cease-fire agreement.

Ya'alon made the remarks in a conversation with army reporters at the headquarters in Tel Aviv, in response to a question about the situation in the Gaza Strip. He added that Israeli deterrence in the wake of Operation Protective Edge this summer was strong, and he said he hoped that if a solution could be found via Egyptian mediation that would allow reconstruction of the Strip to begin and would fulfill some of Hamas’ demands – this might ensure a relatively long period of quiet.

Israel was already working in coordination with the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority to establish a system that would enable increased transfer of construction materials to Gaza to help in the rebuilding process, Ya'alon said. However, he noted, Israel would make sure that no “dual-use materials” would be brought in without proper oversight, since they could be used to dig new tunnels or manufacture weapons.

In the conversation with reporters, Ya'alon also ruled out the possibility that Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant would return to active service in the Israel Defense Forces and be appointed the next chief of staff. Ya’alon said that the incumbent chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, “would be replaced from within the army’s ranks, from among the generals in uniform.”

Ya’alon repeated his declaration that the process of appointing Gantz's successor would not be “like the farce of choosing the chief of staff last time,” in 2011, when scandals thwarted what seemed to be Galant's excellent chances of assuming the top army post.

Ya'alon said that a properly run process would take place, at the end of which the best candidate would be recommended to the government after consultation with the prime minister. The defense minister added that he intended to consult with previous defense ministers and chiefs of staff, and would also be in contact with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to make sure there were no legal or ethical impediments to the appointment of any of the candidates.

Ya'alon announced that he would begin interviewing potential chiefs of staff “after the holidays,” but did not specify a date or say how many people he would be talking to.

The minister's declarations bolster the chances that the next chief of staff will be Deputy Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, who is seen as the leading candidate at present (as well as the defense minister’s own choice).

For his part, Galant said 10 days ago in an interview on Channel 2 that if the government called upon him to return to as IDF chief, he would do so.

Ya’alon described the current dispute with the Finance Ministry over the budget supplement the army has requested following the Gaza operation as “unwise”: The issue was not additional funding per se, he explained, but rather involved the correction of "distortions" that had been created over the last two years because of political constraints.

Regarding the state of affairs in Syria, the defense minister said that the country had “crumbled completely,” and that the chances were very slim for any sort of stabilization in the foreseeable future. With respect to the advance of rebel forces and the withdrawal of the Syrian army along the Israeli border, he said that the counterattack by Bashar Assad’s forces had been ineffective, and “at a very low level of execution.” He said he did not believe that the activity of Islamic State in Syria posed an immediate danger to Israel’s security.

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