IDF chief: Army improved since Gaza war, but not ‘immune to criticism’
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IDF chief: Army improved since Gaza war, but not ‘immune to criticism’

Eisenkot praises wartime efforts of his predecessor, Benny Gantz, who takes flak in comptroller report on 2014 conflict

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, July 13, 2016 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, July 13, 2016 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot on Tuesday said the army was “not immune to criticism,” after the release of a scathing state comptroller report on the military’s conduct during the 2014 Gaza war.

Eisenkot maintained the military had improved in the two and a half years since the 50-day conflict with Hamas.

The army drew considerable criticism in the State Comptroller’s Office report, published on Tuesday afternoon, for not adequately preparing to face the threat of Hamas tunnels.

Since 2014, “the IDF learned its lessons and put together work plans, and has been constantly working to improve its operational capabilities on the Gaza Strip front,” Eisenkot said

He said any mistakes by the Israeli leadership should not detract from the accomplishments and sacrifice of the soldiers, commanders and leaders involved in the military operation, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz visits near the border with the Gaza Strip, on July 26, 2014, (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz visits near the border with the Gaza Strip, on July 26, 2014, (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

“We must remember that these are incredible people who dedicated their lives to the security of Israel and contributed to a better future for the citizens of the country and its residents,” he said.

It was Eisenkot’s first public response to the document, though the army released a statement to coincide with the publication of the comptroller report. He spoke at an event honoring civilian employees of the military at an army base north of Tel Aviv.

Eisenkot served as deputy chief of staff under Lt. Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz during the 2014 war.

Illustrative. IDF soldiers rush towards a target during the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, on August 4, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Illustrative. IDF soldiers rush towards a target during the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, on August 4, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

From that vantage point he “saw up close IDF soldiers and officers in the ground, air and sea… with Benny Gantz leading them, working day and night to achieve combat goals and bring security back to our country,” he said.

While Eisenkot appeared to concede some of the army’s apparent shortcomings during the operation, the military’s official response rebuffed many of the charges.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, October 29, 2014 (Flash90)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, October 29, 2014 (Flash90)

The IDF took issue with State Comptroller Yosef Shapira for focusing on the tunnel threat to the exclusion of other issues “that existed and remain on the agenda.”

Regarding allegations in the report that the IDF had gaps in its intelligence, the military said it “had substantial information regarding the majority of Hamas’s terror tunnels and the nature of its underground terror network,” which “enabled infantry forces to locate the majority of the tunnels and reveal their routes.”

The security cabinet was also said to have been poorly informed of the threat posed by this subterranean attack infrastructure. The military contradicted that point as well.

“The IDF reflected to the Israeli political leadership the tunnel network as a serious threat, analyzed, and assessed and determined its operational ramifications. Additionally, in the cabinet meetings, the IDF defined the tunnel threat as one of the five primary threats facing the State of Israel,” the military said.

IDF soldiers use a camera to peer into the Hamas attack tunnel discovered near the Gaza border last week, in a video released on April 18, 2016. (Screen capture: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF soldiers use a camera to peer into the Hamas attack tunnel discovered near the Gaza border last week, in a video released on April 18, 2016. (Screen capture: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

While the army rejected some of the report’s criticisms, it said that the recommendations made were being reviewed and some had already been put in place.

In the two and a half years since Operation Protective Edge, the “IDF has worked consistently and has invested more than NIS 2 billion ($547 million) to address the underground terror network threat and to find a technological solution,” the military said.

However, Hamas is suspected of having restored its arsenals and rebuilding much of its infrastructure back to pre-Operation Protective Edge levels.

The Gaza-based terror group is believed to possess at least 15 attack tunnels that reach into Israeli territory. Its weapons stores are also said to be replenished, though with more locally produced missiles, as the Egyptian and Israeli blockades make imported rockets more difficult to obtain.

For now, the IDF believes war is inevitable, but not likely in the near future.

“I don’t see a willingness in Gaza to launch a campaign against us,” Eisenkot told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week.

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