Israeli Army Chief: Politicians’ Calls for Massive Force Against Gaza Are 'Irresponsible'

Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot was also critical of former Prime Minister Barak’s warning about the prospect of soldiers disobeying orders in the territories, saying it was not happening and would not happen in the future

IDF Chief of Staff Eisenkot
Adi Cohen Zedek

The head of the Israel Defense Forces' took Israeli politicians to task Tuesday for advocating a tough Israeli military reaction in the Gaza Strip in response to recent rocket fire directed at Israel from the Palestinian coastal enclave.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

Without naming names, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said during a speech: “I hear irresponsible calls to react with maximum force to rockets fired from Gaza. It’s not the right thing to do.”

Speaking at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Eisenkot said Israel will not accept the firing of a single rocket but must respond in a nuanced way. “We apply varying degrees of force,” he said.

“I don’t know of a single instance in which the Israel Defense Forces haven’t attacked terrorist targets,” he told his conference audience. “There are two million residents in Gaza in a very crowded space, and we don’t need to rush into anything. We have the tools to carry out any operation and to achieve our goals in Gaza, but you need to understand the complicated situation in Gaza. Our goal is to maintain the status quo. We are also committed not to arrive at a situation of economic and humanitarian collapse,” he said.

Regarding the situation in the West Bank, Eisenkot said even in moments of anger on Israel’s part that prompt a desire to impose closures in the territory, Israel needs to act in its own interest from a position of power.

Noting that “400,000 Palestinians get up in the morning to go to work, 70,000 of them within Israel,” the chief of staff said this “creates a positive dynamic” and “strengthens the sense of security.”

With regard to relations between the IDF and the political system, Eisenkot said the army “is not a political body,” adding: “It is the country’s army, carrying out policy according to the law. We understand our role,” he said, including the fact that the IDF is subject to the authority of the country’s political leadership.

Eisenkot also responded to recent remarks by Ehud Barak, the former prime minister and IDF chief of staff, in which Barak warned about the future prospect of senior army officers refusing orders. Speaking in the Jordan Valley about two weeks ago, Barak said: “The attempt to implement the one-state agenda will lead to some people in the army and the Shin Bet [security service] – who according to Israeli law are obliged to refuse blatantly illegal orders – not fulfilling the orders they receive.” The one-state agenda implies refusal to establish a Palestinian state in the territories.

“As someone who has served 40 years in the Israel Defense Forces, I do not see officers refusing an order over policy,” Eisenkot told his Herzliya audience. “We understand the law well, and one can argue and espouse different positions, but I haven’t been seeing any IDF army officers refusing an order.”

Eisenkot added: “It’s something that hasn’t happened, and I don’t see it happening in the future. That’s how it’s been and that’s how it will be. The IDF’s primary strength is public faith in the general staff, and I can tell everyone that we have a responsible army. I would view any kind of refusal, particularly on refusal as a group, as a challenge to what unites us as a society.” On the other hand, Eisenkot said the army, in fact, requires that soldiers refuse to carry out blatantly illegal orders.

Eisenkot and Barak reportedly met last month, a day before Barak made his comments about future insubordination in the army. Barak apparently didn’t mention the issue to Eisenkot in their conversation.

The Army Spokesman’s office commented at the time that the meeting was held “as part of the chief-of-staff’s periodic meetings with the general staff and senior retired officers on a range of military and security matters since assuming his position.” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s office refused to comment on whether the minister knew about the meeting between Eisenkot and Barak in advance or was asked to approve it.