Army Intelligence Chief Says Hezbollah and Hamas Don't Seek Clash With Israel, but Warns Gaza on Verge of Crisis

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Military Intelligence chief Herzl Halevi speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, March 1, 2017.
Military Intelligence chief Herzl Halevi speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, March 1, 2017.Credit: Lior Mizrahi

Hezbollah and Hamas do not seek a military confrontation with Israel in the near future, Military Intelligence chief Herzl Halevi told Knesset members Wednesday, while noting that the economically ailing Gaza is nearing a crisis under Hamas’ leadership.

Halevi was speaking at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee a day after the state comptroller harshly criticized Israeli political and military leaders for their performance before and during the 2014 Gaza war.

According to people present at the meeting, Halevi said Military Intelligence performed exceedingly well during that war and had learned lessons, even if the MKs didn’t always believe him.

MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said there was a gap between the available intelligence and the preparations for the operation. MK Shelly Yacimovich, also of Zionist Union, asked whether MI had failed to properly interpret intelligence it had on the eve of the war, and whether it was too bound to preconceived notions.

According to people at the hearing, Halevi noted that Hamas’ attack tunnels were not an existential threat to Israel, though he did not mean to belittle the threat. He said Military Intelligence was investing considerable resources to deal with the tunnels.

According to people at the meeting, Halevi said Hezbollah might consider a clash with Israel only after the fighting in Syria had ended. He said Hezbollah was very frustrated because of the many fighters it had lost in the Syrian civil war, and because it was getting harder to recruit new fighters to the organization, some of whose operatives are approaching 60.

According to one person present, Halevi warned that the Lebanese Army might fight alongside Hezbollah during a war with Israel.

He noted that Hamas wasn’t attacking Israel and was acting aggressively against rebel groups that do. He said Israel was concerned that Hamas and Hezbollah might cooperate in the future.

Several of those present said Halevi warned about volatility in the West Bank, “particularly if they feel that there’s no hope for any movement,” as one person put it.

He said any future arrangement with the Palestinian Authority would have to take into account that the Middle East had changed significantly since the last agreements with the Palestinians were signed. He said that until an agreement with the Palestinians was reached, moves should be pursued to improve the Palestinian economy and ease the frustration as the peace process stalls.

According to people present, Halevi made clear that Israeli policy was to avoid collective punishment in response to terror attacks. He said the army aimed to increase the number of work permits for Palestinians seeking employment in Israel and did not block the entry of Palestinians with permits simply because an attack had occurred.

Halevi said the cooperation between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump would help moderate Iran and soften the link between Iran and Syria. He added that while Russia’s activities in Syria were considered significant, the United States was more substantially involved, even if it was focusing on intelligence.

He said Russia did not see Hezbollah and Iran as strategic partners but merely as tools to achieve Moscow’s objectives. Russia has leased land in Syria for 50 years, Halevi noted, indicating that it does not plan to withdraw from Syria in the near future.

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