IDF chief says Iranian missiles overhyped, but sent a message
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Eisenkot complains weapons reaching Hezbollah 'under the Russians' noses'

IDF chief says Iranian missiles overhyped, but sent a message

Addressing the Herzliya Conference, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot says Hamas should have ‘no interest’ in clash with Israel

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

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at the Herzliya Conference in the Israeli coastal city on June 20, 2017. (Hagai Fried/Herzliya Conference)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at the Herzliya Conference in the Israeli coastal city on June 20, 2017. (Hagai Fried/Herzliya Conference)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot downplayed the significance of an Iranian missile strike against the Islamic State in Syria, saying “the operational achievement was less than what was reported in the media,” during a wide-ranging speech on Israel’s security threats on Tuesday night.

The army chief’s remarks appeared to confirm the claims made by anonymous Israeli security sources on Monday that only one or two of the six or seven Iranian missiles that were launched actually hit their target.

Though he denied their efficacy, Eisenkot acknowledged that the missiles “made a statement” to the world about Iran’s preparedness to use its ballistic missiles, something it hadn’t done since 1988.

The strikes were in ostensible response to twin terror attacks in Tehran earlier this month that killed over a dozen people for which the Islamic State took responsibility.

Eisenkot said “perhaps the terror attacks in Iran are the price for its involvement in Syria and its actions against the Islamic State.”

The crowd listens as IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at the Herzliya Conference in the Israeli coastal city on June 20, 2017. (Hagai Fried/Herzliya Conference)
The crowd listens as IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks at the Herzliya Conference in the Israeli coastal city on June 20, 2017. (Hagai Fried/Herzliya Conference)

The top general made his comments at the annual Herzliya Conference, held each year by the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in the coastal Israeli city. His approximately 45-minute, far-reaching speech dealt with the major threats facing Israel, from Iranian nuclear ambitions to internal spats that threaten the status of the IDF as a people’s army.

Looking to Israel’s borders, the army chief noted that though the situation is tense all around the Middle East, the past few years have been among Israel’s quietest.

The Syrian border has remained calm for the past 44 years, since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, despite the current “chaotic reality” in the country; the Lebanese border has stayed calm in the 11 years since the 2006 Second Lebanon War; and the past year on the Gaza border has been the quietest since 1967, Eisenkot said.

Speaking about the Strip, the lieutenant general toned down the rhetoric surrounding the potential for a conflict between Hamas and Israel.

An electricity shortage in the coastal enclave, brought on by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority refusing to pay the bill, is seen by many as a potential catalyst for war between the terrorist group and the IDF. Local media reported Tuesday that Egypt will provide hundreds of tons of fuel oil for the Gaza Strip’s only power station, a measure expected to ease the ongoing crisis in the Palestinian enclave.

A palestinian family eats dinner by candlelight at their makeshift home in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, during a power outage June 11, 2017. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)
A Palestinian family eats dinner by candlelight at their makeshift home in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, during a power outage June 11, 2017. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)

Eiesnkot, however, said he doesn’t “see Hamas having an interest in an offensive operation” against Israel, citing the serious blow suffered by the terror group in the 2014 Gaza war.

Still, he also warned that a small “tactical incident” in Gaza could potentially snowball into a larger conflict.

Eisenkot said that while having electricity flowing into Gaza “24 hours a day,” getting its residents to work and giving them hope for the future is in Israel’s interest, it would be absurd for Israel to pay Hamas’s bill, while the terror group uses its ample resources to prepare for war with the IDF.

Looking north, the army chief dedicated a significant amount of time detailing the threat posed by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group.

A Hezbollah fighter is seen standing at attention in an orange field near the town of Naqura on the Lebanese-Israeli border on April 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID)
A Hezbollah fighter is seen standing at attention in an orange field near the town of Naqura on the Lebanese-Israeli border on April 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID)

Hezbollah, he said, possesses “tens of thousands” of long- and short-range rockets, drones, advanced computer encryption capabilities, as well as advanced defense capabilities like the SA-6 anti-aircraft missile system.

Hezbollah’s Iranian and Syrian weaponry are freely given, the IDF chief said, but its Russian equipment is “taken without permission, under [the Russians’] noses.”

Israel does not typically admit to its military operations abroad, but Eisenkot told the crowd that Israel both has worked, is working on “an almost daily basis” and will work to prevent advanced weaponry from being transferred to Hezbollah.

Though the Iran-backed Shiite terrorist group represents a clear threat to Israel, Eisenkot noted that the group is currently in dire straits, mostly as a result of its continued fighting in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Tehran.

According to the military leader, a third of the group’s fighting force is currently entrenched in Syria. Hezbollah has suffered some 8,000 casualties, and is struggling to provide for their treatment and rehab due to budgetary issues.

Adnan Badreddine, left, brother of Hezbollah terror chief Mustafa Badreddine, grieves at his brother's picture in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, May 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Adnan Badreddine, left, brother of Hezbollah terror chief Mustafa Badreddine, grieves at his brother’s picture in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, May 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Eisenkot repeated a claim he made earlier in the year that one of Hezbollah’s commanders, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, was killed by his own men.

Badreddine was killed in an explosion “moments after meeting with [senior officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Qassem] Soleimani. He was murdered by his officers in a place that was supposed to be secure,” Eisenkot said.

The army chief also denied recent reports that Israel is militarily supporting rebel groups in southern Syria that are fighting in the civil war there.

“Israel is not involved in the fighting for one side or another,” he said.

However, the most recent report by the Wall Street Journal did not claim that the IDF was directly involved in the fighting, but rather that it was giving material aid to the groups.

Eiesnkot acknowledged that Israel is providing medical treatment to thousands of Syrians, including hundreds of children, and that it has sent “tons of humanitarian aid” to the war-torn country.

The lieutenant general said that maintaining cooperation with other militaries is of the utmost importance to the IDF. These ties both provide Israel with direct assistance, in some cases, but they also serve the larger, strategic function of forging relationships with countries that are not yet official allies, he said.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, right, shakes hands with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in the ministry's Tel Aviv headquarters on May 9, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, right, shakes hands with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in the ministry’s Tel Aviv headquarters on May 9, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“The cooperation with the American army helps the coalition fight in the Middle East,” Eisenkot said.

“That same cooperation can also be seen with other moderate countries” in the region, he added, in an apparent reference to the Sunni Muslim majority nations with which Israel is rumored to have security ties, like Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states.

That cooperation is “in some cases overt and sometimes covert,” Eisenkot said.

Connecting Israel to those “moderate countries” is a mutual distrust toward both Iran and the Islamic State

According to the IDF chief of staff, Iran is still interested in “creating a nuclear program, though the [2015 nuclear] agreement rolled back some of its capabilities.”

In the meantime, Iran is “outfitting state-sponsored terror groups with advanced weaponry,” he said.

Israeli soldiers and security forces at the scene of a stabbing attack in the West Bank city of Hebron, September 17, 2016 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers and security forces at the scene of a stabbing attack in the West Bank city of Hebron, September 17, 2016 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Looking to home-grown terrorist activities, Eisenkot also discussed the wave of violence that has swept through Israel since September 2015, which could be seen in the hours before the army chief’s speech in an attempted stabbing attack against Israeli soldiers in the central West Bank.

The current terror wave is characterized by the fact that most assailants are not part of organized groups but are “lone wolves.” This has forced the IDF to adapt, putting more effort into differentiating between combatants and innocent civilians.

The “Pavlovian response” of closing off villages after terror attacks and stopping people from going to their jobs — “it didn’t work,” he said.

Eisenkot also praised the Palestinian Authority’s security services, saying they “deserved recognition” for their efforts to prevent terror attacks.

But looking to the future, Eisenkot predicted that terror attacks would continue to be a constant in Israeli society.

“It’s something we’ll deal with for years to come,” he said.

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