Head to Head / Gen. Giora Eiland, Was Thursday's Attack Similar to Gilad Shalit's Abduction?

'The problem with the border in the section between the Sayarim Junction and Eilat is that it lacks depth. There are only a few dozen meters from the border to the road,' says Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland.

Maj. Gen. (res. ) Giora Eiland has headed the Infantry Officers School, the Givati Brigade and the Israel Defense Forces' Planning Directorate. After his release from the army he headed the National Security Council for more than three years. Twice in recent years the IDF has requested his services as an investigator. The first case was the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit and the killing of soldiers Hanan Barak and Pavel Slutzker in June 2006. The second was the navy's takeover of the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara in last year's Gaza flotilla.

Gen. Eiland, Israeli security officials are saying that last week's incursion over the Egyptian border and the subsequent terror attack are very similar to what happened during the abduction of Gilad Shalit. Do you see a resemblance?

Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland
Moti Milrod

One has to be careful about making hasty comparisons, but on the face of it, it appears there are some similar points here. In both cases the operation set out from Gaza with the goal of kidnapping soldiers. In both the Shin Bet [security service] gave a warning. In both cases the terrorist action was a surprise in its complexity and daring. And the IDF's preparedness confronting Gaza was at a higher level back then, in 2006, based on conclusions made after the disengagement.

With the terror attack near Eilat, the army's deployment was based on the assumption that this was a peaceful border. In both cases it was necessary to adjust assumptions, then because of Hamas' election victory in Gaza, and now because of what has been happening in Egypt over the past six months.

What are the main questions that should be asked in the investigation of last week's attack?

Questions on three planes must be asked. The first is about the border fence with Egypt. Back in 2005 it was decided in principle to build a barrier on the border because of the concern that terrorists would set out from Gaza. Ever since, another disturbing threat has been growing: the massive stream of refugees. Why has it been six years and there's still no fence?

The second level is our strategic preparedness regarding the changes in Egypt. This has implications for our deployment on the border, of course. And also, without any connection to the investigation into the current incident, we have to ask whether the Egyptians will turn into an enemy in a war with Syria or Hezbollah.

The third level relates to the specific warning and our preparedness for it. There are many tactical questions here about the opening of the road to civilian traffic, our forces' level of preparedness and the means of discovery before the incident, up to the question about the way the security forces operated from the minute the shooting started.

The Shin Bet claims that in the Shalit case, too, it passed on a highly specific warning to the army that could have prevented the attack. Can we really talk about this level of advance warning?

In the Shalit case, there was an advance warning about a terrorist attack from southern Gaza, and a warning that same week from the General Staff about the possible use of a tunnel. But this is a sector with an entire brigade. When there's a warning about Gaza's southern sector it looks from general headquarters to be very specific, but from the brigade commander's standpoint it applies to his entire sector. From his point of view it's not very specific at all. What looks specific from above is more general the closer you get out in the field. The latest incident was even more extreme; there were 200 kilometers of border, not 20.

At what levels should last week's attack be investigated?

When warnings come from the high ranks and then the deployment of our forces is presented to the area commander and the chief of staff, it isn't enough to investigate only at the tactical level, which is often the right thing to do when an incident comes as a complete surprise. The investigation in this case must examine the chain of command from the chief of staff to the forces on the ground.

What about other agencies involved in the incident?

There are limitations to this kind of investigation if it's conducted solely by the army. This was the case in the Shalit kidnapping and in the Mavi Marmara flotilla. With Shalit, I wasn't allowed to interrogate the Shin Bet, mainly its investigation division. In the investigation of the Turkish flotilla I wasn't allowed to question the Mossad. In the current case it's important that the investigator receive the full cooperation of the army, the Shin Bet and the police.

What operational solutions are there for the Egyptian border? Can we put more forces there within the terms of the peace agreement?

There are no limitations on the number of [military] companies; we're not allowed to put many tanks on the border, but tanks aren't the answer. The problem with the border in the section between the Sayarim Junction and Eilat is that it lacks depth. There are only a few dozen meters from the border to the road, and we're prevented from operating on the Egyptian side to create depth. One way to deal with this constraint is to put up an effective barrier including a fence, as well as surveillance devices that provide a warning from the other side of the border.