Ex-Israeli Army Chief Warns of Dangerous Security Crisis With Palestinians

In his first public appearance since retiring from the IDF, Gadi Eisenkot says that if Israel doesn't share information on planned terror threats, 'there would be clashes everyday'

Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a security conference in Tel Aviv, April 19, 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

WASHINGTON — Former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned Wednesday that Israel would face a dangerous situation in the West Bank if its security coordination with the Palestinian Authority were to end.

Eisenkot, a retired lieutenant general who led the IDF from 2015 to 2019, said that preserving security coordination is “an Israeli interest” and that this coordination should be strengthened.

“The IDF’s challenge [in the West Bank] is to provide security and prevent terror, and to separate between the terrorists and the Palestinian population,” Eisenkot said, during a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy — his first public appearance since retiring from the IDF. 

“We want to allow them a better life, and to maintain the coordination between the IDF and the Palestinian forces. It’s a common interest,” he said.

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The IDF and Palestinian Authority security forces work together on a daily basis to prevent terrorism in the West Bank. Eisenkot warned there would be a security deterioration if this coordination were to end due to political tensions.

“Without the coordination, it will be a lot of friction,” Eisenkot said. He added that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “understands what will be the situation without coordination and cooperation” between the two sides. “It’s a Palestinian interest and an Israeli interest,” Eisenkot explained.

The former chief of staff provided a similar message in his last closed-door briefing to the Israeli government before retiring from the military a few months ago. Wednesday’s speech was the first time he made these comments in public.

Eisenkot explained that when Israel learns of terror threats coming from within Palestinian cities in the West Bank, “we try to share the information with them [the PA]. If we recognize a ticking bomb, we send our own troops. So without coordination there will be clashes every day, in several places. It’s very important.”

Eisenkot expressed hope that the coordination will be strengthened, together with other steps to “create stability and a win-win situation for both of us.”              

During his speech, Eisenkot also spoke at length about the security situation on Israel’s northern border. He said that Iran had cut its financial support to Hezbollah by hundreds of millions of dollars because of its bad economic situation. At the same time, he warned that the next war between Israel and Hezbollah “will be very hard for both sides,” because of Hezbollah’s arsenal of missiles and rockets.

Eisenkot also discussed the United States’ policy regarding Iran, and said that the signing of the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 allowed the IDF to move resources away from the Iranian threat to other priorities such as Syria and Lebanon.

“The agreement was a strategic turning point,” he explained. “It allowed us to take resource from one mission to other missions, to bring more achievements in the Syrian and Lebanese arena.”

He did not, however, criticize the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the agreement last year, and focused instead on the importance of tough sanctions against Iran. “It sends a clear message: Without sanctions and designations, we will continue to see the Iranians try to achieve nuclear capabilities and regional hegemony,” Eisenkot said.

Eisenkot’s lecture was dedicated to the memory of the late Ze’ev Schiff, who was Haaretz’s military analyst for many decades. Eisenkot did not take questions from the audience and was instead interviewed by the Washington Institute’s executive director, Robert Satloff. A person who discussed the speech with Eisenkot ahead of its delivery told Haaretz that the former army chief did not want to be taken “off message” in his first appearance since leaving the military.