Israeli Army Chief Flexes Muscles at Iraq, but Warms to Hamas Deal

In a future war with Gaza or the north, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi says, the Israeli home front needs to prepare for physical and psychological damage

Lt. Gen. Aviv Cochavi at the Herzliyah Conference, December 25, 2019.

Iran's Quds Force is moving advanced weaponry into Iraq on a monthly basis, Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said on Wednesday, adding that this is something Israel cannot allow to go on unchecked.

"We cannot allow this to pass without authority," Kochavi said at a conference held at Herzliya's Interdisciplinary College, adding that the weapons transfer is occurring while "Iraq is undergoing a civil war, when the Quds Force is operating there on a daily basis, when the country itself has turned into an ungoverned area."

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He said that the IDF is undertaking enormous efforts, "in the open and undercover, not to allow the enemy to equip itself with high-accuracy weapons, even at the price of confrontation."

Kochavi also discussed Israel's arrangements with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, saying that, at the moment, there is an opportunity to strike an agreement.

According to him, Hamas is once again dictating the agenda, and missile deployment, in the Strip and Israel is involved in a mediation process aided by Egypt where "in exchange for a considerable improvement in the security situation in the Gaza Strip, we will allow for relief for civilians."

He added that this is Israel's policy, and he stands by it. As such, Kochavi noted, the opportunity is a fragile one. "It demands that both sides know how to take advantage of this very unique moment, and in the same breath not to forget for a moment" that Hamas is still holding the bodies of Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.

"We have to deal with that and return them home, not just the security concerns of the State of Israel," he said.     

Kochavi also spoke about Iran, which he said is "continuing alongside the restrictions on its nuclear plan to build missiles that can reach our territory and to double its enriched uranium."  

All of Israel's fronts are operational, Kochavi said. "In the past months, there was no one front that did not have at least two immediate alerts that needed attention." Some were out in the open, but others were clandestine. And others, he said, "faded out by themselves." He added, "Not only were all fronts operational, but some fronts were added as well."

Kochavi also discussed wars that may be on the horizon in the north or with Hamas in Gaza. "The firepower on the home front will be tremendous," he said. "We must prepare the civilian authorities and mentally prepare for this as well." 

He added that a large number of the rockets and missiles at the moment are "statistical": "They won't hit exactly where the enemy planned, but because they're planning to fire them on visible areas and central cities, then yes, it will have an effect and it will do damage." He added that Israel deals with this threat "with many different methods."

In this war, he said, "We will forcefully strike the urban zone," adding that "the enemy chose to situate themselves there, and from there they fire thousands of missiles at Israel. Unlike the enemy, who is aiming at civilians, we will strike based on intelligence. We will warn them, allow them to evacuate and strike with force immediately after."

He added, "Be aware that the country that hosts terror organizations bears responsibility. It is the responsibility of the Lebanese government, of Hamas, of Syria."

Kochavi also made mention to the killing of nine members of Gaza's Al-Sawarka family in Deir al-Balah last month. "We investigated this incident for dozens of hours. The investigation was carried out at every level. We investigated for hours why we hit civilians."

On Tuesday, Haaretz published that the IDF's inquiry found that the family's home was miscategorized as a "military compound" used by Islamic Jihad, instead of as a civilian complex "with some military activity," as it should have been. Were it accurately defined, such a target wouldn't have been struck in what was considered a low-intensity operation, and those inside would have been warned in advance to give civilians time to escape.

The IDF has major difficulty with defining Hamas targets in Gaza, Kochavi said, "and hitting it with a surgical strike with a half-ton bomb is a very big challenge." That being said, he added, "there can be mistakes, as happened to my regret during Operation Black Belt [in November], where in one strike many civilians were killed."