The outgoing head of the army’s Home Front Command warned Wednesday that Israel “will be made extinct” if it continues to act like a “dinosaur” in the face-off against its nimbler regional enemies.
In an interview with The Times of Israel, he also said an agreement at the close of the nuclear negotiations in Switzerland would require a “very serious situational assessment” and a corresponding decision about “where Israel is headed, for better and for worse.”
Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, who concluded on Tuesday a four-year term as the commander of the home front, refused to say specifically if Israel’s central concern would be a greater freedom of action for pro-Iranian, non-state actors such as Hezbollah or threats more directly associated with Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program, but added that Israel would be forced to draw conclusions.
“You can’t act like an ostrich and bury your head in the sand and say nothing has changed,” he said, speaking in his office in the IDF’s Tel Aviv headquarters. “Something has changed. A very, very basic element in your situational assessment is changing. You have to relate to it.”
Eisenberg, who commanded the Gaza Division during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 and the 98th Paratroopers Division during the Second Lebanon War, spoke candidly about the changing threat from Gaza and the expected shape of a future war with Hezbollah.
Likening Israel to a dinosaur and, later, to Gulliver, he said that “across the entire history of mankind,” all massive changes have resulted in “the extinction” of the larger, ostensibly stronger creatures and the survival of the more adaptable smaller species.
Hamas, he said, is in the process of “eroding” Israel’s qualitative edge because change, in a large organization like the IDF, requires one to walk the full length “of the Via Dolorosa.”
For example, in Operation Cast Lead, he said, the army saw “the buds of” Hamas’ tunnel warfare doctrine but failed to act with sufficient alacrity. “To what extent were we able to take those buds and start a learning process? It did not surprise us…And that is what is concerning.
“We need to be small and quick and not big and heavy,” Eisenberg stressed. “We are a regional power and we are operating like the dinosaurs of old, and we will be made extinct at this rate.”
He stretched the metaphor further to include Gulliver from “Gulliver’s Travels,” an elephant he had recently seen attacked by 14 lionesses in a nature film, and the Kodak technology company, which was once “a giant” but didn’t manage to internalize the shift from film to digital.
Israel’s enemies, he added, pinpointed the low point of the Gulf War in 1991 – when many residents of Tel Aviv fled the city and the Yitzhak Shamir-led government succumbed to the US demand to abstain from responding to Saddam Hussein’s missile fire – and quickly invested in mortars, rockets, and missiles.
Only in April 2011, some five years after the Second Lebanon War, was Israel was able to roll out the Iron Dome missile defense system, which is part of an internationally unparalleled, multi-layer defense deployment.
He said the David’s Shield system, a crucial part of the mid-layer of defense, would hopefully be made operational by the end of 2015.
The downside of the air defense system, which has successfully destroyed over 85 percent of targeted projectiles during the past two campaigns, he said, is that while organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah once took pride in, and in fact made a central part of their fighting doctrine, the ability to fight Israel for weeks on end, the next war with Hezbollah, on account of the air defense systems, which spared the Israeli populace some of the hardships of war, will likely begin with a blitz.
“I would not use that word,” Eisenberg said, “I prefer an abundance of impacts [of rockets].” He confirmed that the public should prepare for “between 1,200 and 1,500” rockets per day during the early stage of a war with Hezbollah, attributing the shift in the Shiite organization’s doctrine to two factors: a desire “to sear into Israel’s consciousness” the price of war and an understanding that “what is not fired in the first act might not be able to fire in the third act.”
He said an onslaught of that sort would compel Israel to respond with “the sort [of response] the other side has not seen and does not know.”
“I say to the other side: I do not have the color to shade in what Beirut will look like in the next war. It will be far more gloomy, more painful, more black.”
In both the south and the north, Eisenberg added, there will be an push to cut short the campaign, to avoid repeating the 50-day war of the summer, and an understanding that the “responsible adults” – Hamas in the south and the government of Lebanon in the north – should be preserved as the sovereigns.
Nonetheless, he said the army has internalized in the wake of the war in Gaza and the price paid by the communities along the borderline, that “we need more tools in our toolbox,” including the ability to relocate segments of the population most severely hit and the ability to provide logistical support to populations that are asked to remain indoors, in fortified structures.
On Tuesday Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick took command of the IDF Home Front Command. Eisenberg, who seemed at ease after 34 years of service, said he left him a pair of sneakers – a symbolic reminder that he need not outrun the bear but simply be faster than the others in the race – and a book of Psalms, “so that God will help him.”