In Unusual Document, Army Chief Hails Israel's 'Success' in Latest Gaza Operation

Nine family members killed by mistake in an Israeli strike are not mentioned in the letter Kochavi sent to all army units

Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi in a press conference in Tel Aviv, November 2019.
Moti Milrod

A few days after Operation Black Belt in the Gaza Strip, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi ordered the distribution of a document describing the progression of the operation and its achievements to all army units. And according to him, the operation was an impressive success.

Kochavi’s step is unusual, especially for an operation that lasted only 48 hours. There was no such document after the previous round of escalation in the Strip, last May, during which about 700 missiles were launched into Israeli territory and four Israeli citizens were killed.

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Written by the Operations Directorate in the General Staff and the office of the chief of staff, it describes the operation through the eyes of Kochavi in five pages of questions and answers.

“In order to strengthen familiarity with the processes of the operation and to share the knowledge and the insights, the chief of staff has ordered that a discussion be held on the subject in all IDF units, and that main points be presented to all the soldiers and commanders of all ranks, no later than Friday, November 22,” the document, which was first distributed to officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel and higher, said. 

The commanders were required to “send a document to the Operations Directorate signed by the head of the division/command/branch, confirming the implementation of the directive.”

The document portrays the operation in a very positive light.

“Did the last round of fighting end in success in the view of the IDF?” one question goes. “Absolutely.” 

“Along with targeting the senior commander of Islamic Jihad, in the past two days we attacked dozens of Islamic Jihad terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip and greatly damaged its attack capability,” the document says.

“We targeted terror squads engaged in launching high-trajectory missiles at our territory and we hit workshops for producing rockets, training compounds, weapons arsenals, war materiel and underground terror sites, attack tunnel shafts, launching posts, military war rooms and more.”

Israeli army soldiers near the Gaza border, November 2019.
Ilan Assayag

Later in the answer to that question, it says that the success stemmed from “the fact that the air force attacks were carried out in a surgically powerful and precise manner, with minimal collateral damage.”

On November 14, an Israeli air strike killed nine members of one Palestinian family, the Al-Sawarkahs, in the town of Deir al-Balah. The IDF later admitted the house had been targeted by mistake, as Haaretz reported. This incident is briefly mentioned in the answer to the question: “What happened on the night of the attack of November 14, in which a family was killed in Deir al-Balah?”

According to the answer, buildings that were identified as Islamic Jihad infrastructure were attacked. These buildings were “incriminated” as a military target several months ago, and checked by experts once again several days before it was attacked.

The commanders were instructed to explain to the soldiers that after an initial investigation into the incident, the identification of the target and the planning of the attack were done in accordance with the obligatory IDF instructions, and that the investigation of the incident is ongoing.

The launching of high-trajectory missiles at Be’er Sheva two days after the cease-fire by Hamas members is not mentioned in the document. Senior defense officials who saw the document expressed their bewilderment. "It looks like a battle heritage document depicting the Six-Day War," said one of the officials who reviewed the document.    

Other defense establishment members who saw the document report feeling uncomfortable. The paper could seem to be an attempt to repel political criticism that was heard during the operation, defense sources told Haaretz.

Asked for comment, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said the discussion "was a basic and vital command tool for every military unit, for debriefing and learning purposes.

"The document was designed to update the IDF commanders and soldiers regarding the facts and developments of the operation," the IDF said. "The content and the manner of conducting the discussion is left to every commander in his own unit, in accordance with the lessons that are relevant to his unit.”