30,000 Reservists Go Home, 55,000 Stay as Fighting Ends

IDF chief blames Hamas leaders for devastation in the Gaza Strip.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Israeli soldiers walk in a field after returning to Israel from Gaza, August 5, 2014.
Israeli soldiers walk in a field after returning to Israel from Gaza, August 5, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Some 30,000 reserve soldiers were discharged at the end of Israel's conflict with Hamas and 55,000 remain mobilized, mainly for security assignments along the borders, the area adjoining Gaza, the West Bank and the north, military sources said Wednesday.

Separately, the Home Front Command on Wednesday lifted the restrictions imposed during the fighting in the Gaza Strip and announced a nationwide return to routine.

The Home Front said studies, summer camps and large gatherings were no longer restricted, but “with the sound of a siren or an explosion, [people] must enter the protected space within the time allotted for each region.”

IDF officers say the current cease-fire will lead to some arrangement to maintain security in the south. They said Hamas will probably ask to preserve the calm because of the difficult situation in the Gaza Strip.

Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, speaking to journalists for the first time since the fighting began, on Wednesday blamed Hamas leaders for the “devastating” outcome of the fighting in the Gaza Strip because the group fired at Israel from populated areas.

The IDF destroyed Hamas’s strategic ability to develop and manufacture rockets and use underground tunnels, and it damaged the group's command structure, Gantz said.

“Hamas has suffered a very serious blow in all areas,” he said. “Its commanders are sitting in bunkers and aren’t coming out. And if they do go out, they’ll see the extent of the damage caused to Hamas forces and, unfortunately, to the population in the Strip.”

As for Israeli troops, Gantz said, “Our forces are getting organized behind the lines and preparing for defense.”

“We have not for one moment forgotten our missions,” he said. “We did not hesitate to exert our strength as much as needed and to the utmost extent.”

Responding to criticism that intelligence officials were not always able to give soldiers the exact coordinates of the Hamas tunnels they were assigned to destroy, Gantz said Israeli intelligence is “exceptionally good” and got soldiers as close to the tunnel openings as possible. “Yes, it was necessary to improvise and innovate during fighting, in real time, but that’s how war is,” he said.

Gantz also said that “even though it sounds strange,” the army and the ministers worked in close cooperation, which provided in-depth strategic guidance for the military campaign.

Gantz called on the residents of the communities adjoining Gaza to return home, “work your fields, return to live your life as you did when it was calm here before. It will be even calmer later. The IDF isn’t going anywhere.”

A number of combatant units remain posted in various places around the Gaza Strip, and Iron Dome batteries and their teams remain on alert.

“As far as we’re concerned there’s no cease-fire, the battery is ready and will remain that way for a long time,” said Major Shay Kobninsky, commander of the Iron Dome battery in the Dan Region.

Kobninsky, whose battery intercepted more than 25 rockets, said it was complicated to operate Iron Dome in the densely populated and highly built-up Dan Region.

“I’m not sure this operation is over,” he said.

“We work closely and in coordination with the Airports Authority and make sure civil aviation is safe. We learned from the Yehud incident, but ultimately nothing hit the airport, not even a splinter of shrapnel,” he said. “Aviation safety was not compromised at any time.”

An air force officer said the airport was safe all the time and the decision of several airlines not to fly to Israel due to the danger from rockets had nothing to do with aviation safety.

He called the safety at Ben-Gurion Airport “much higher than in New York, Los Angeles and certainly in the Ukraine.”

The Israel Air Force is examining the aerial-defense activity during the fighting in the Gaza Strip. Some officers estimate Iron Dome’s interception success rate at 85 percent to 87 percent.

“Since Operation Pillar of Defense we’ve learned many lessons and the results prove it, as do the preparations for this event," Kobninsky said.

“We’re now looking to the north, where we’ll have to face bigger challenges. Clearly, in view of the quantities of rockets fired at the north, some will hit the ground,” he said.

The IDF is currently assessing the cost of the fighting in Gaza, which is estimated at billions of shekels. The army is also formulating its opinion on the fighting’s definition a war or another operation, or round of fighting. The official definition will be determined by a state commission.

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