Israel Defense Forces chief Gadi Eisenkot on Tuesday criticized efforts to depict Elor Azaria, a soldier on trial for shooting and killing a wounded Palestinian assailant, as a "confused little kid," saying that such an approach demeaned the army.
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Eisenkot made the remarks a day before the verdict in the trial was expected.
“An 18-year-old who enlists in the IDF isn’t everyone’s child, he isn’t a baby who was taken prisoner. He’s a fighter, he’s a soldier, he’s called on to put his life on the line,” Eisenkot said at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
“The confusion that has seeped into the discussion, this confusion between an 18-year-old man or 18-year-old woman and everyone’s little boy who got confused and was kidnapped, or got confused and so on, is something that's harming the army's character,” Eisenkot said.
As he put it, “We demand that our soldiers follow the IDF’s set of values: to defend the country with loyalty and love, to treat people with respect, to persevere in the mission. These aren't just slogans, this is a set of values.”
According to Eisenkot, the army’s job is “to ensure that this set of values is sustained – to preserve the strength and justness of the IDF.”
He also indirectly criticized the government, saying a third intifada had been prevented due of the army’s rejection of cabinet members’ calls for a closure of the West Bank.
“The fact that we haven’t seen a third intifada develop is a result of concentrated force that distinguishes between the general population and the terrorists,” he said. “The wise policy that rejected calls for closures and barring people from working as a punitive measure was extremely helpful in reaching this reality, which isn't something to be taken for granted.”
Eisenkot also discussed the overall region, saying Hezbollah was currently “deployed from the border fence to the Litani River, contrary to [UN] Resolution 1701. It's present there and building its strength.”
He said a third of Hezbollah’s forces were fighting in Syria, where 1,700 Hezbollah fighters had been killed and about 7,000 wounded. “No one wants to pay the bloody price – neither the Syrian Army nor Hezbollah nor the Iranian militias nor the Russian forces,” Eisenkot said.
He also talked about how the IDF was providing humanitarian aid to wounded Syrians. “Twenty-six million shekels [$6.7 million] from the IDF budget is going to medical assistance for wounded Syrians,” he said. “In total, more than 3,000 of them have been hospitalized in Safed and Nahariya.”
Eisenkot also highlighted Iran’s assistance to Hezbollah, saying Tehran had given the group $750 million and was helping lead it. Iran also supports Gaza, where it has given Hamas $70 million.
Eisenkot described Gaza as “a kind of time bomb. The humanitarian-civilian situation there is volatile."
He said it was in Israel’s interest for Gaza to have hope, but the security challenge was to prevent Hamas from growing more powerful and violating Israeli sovereignty by digging tunnels into Israel.