IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday that the greatest threat to the army is meddling politicians who reduce the public’s faith in the integrity of the military.
In a closed meeting, details of which were leaked to the media, Eisenkot warned lawmakers that political rhetoric on army matters damages the IDF.
MKs present at the meeting recalled that Eizenkot noted there have been several incidents of politicians speaking out inappropriately on internal army matters, and drew particular attention to the case of Sgt. Elor Azaria, an IDF soldier who was investigated after shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian stabber in Hebron earlier this year.
Although the army launched an investigation into the shooting, it went from being an internal IDF legal case to a public matter that many politicians commented on for their own ends, Eisenkot said.
“A lot of things were said without knowledge of the facts, to promote agendas that have nothing to do with the IDF,” he said. “We want an IDF that operates according to orders, rules of engagement, the IDF spirit and IDF values. If someone wants gang ethos then he would say so.”
Although the IDF commander refused to name which politicians he had in mind, both Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman — at the time an opposition MK — expressed support for Azaria ahead of his manslaughter trial, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his father on the phone.
Eisenkot also touched on other issues that have made headlines — the indictment of a top officer for rape and the appointment of a controversial new IDF chief rabbi.
Brig. Gen. Ofek Buchris, whose career was given promotion boosts by Eisenkot in the past, was indicted last week for assaulting two female subordinates between 2010 and 2012.
“My commitment to Buchris as a decorated officer is no different to my commitment to the soldier and officer who were harmed [by him],” Eisenkot said.
As for Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim’s appointment as head of the military rabbinate — despite contentious comments he made in the past seemingly approving the rape of enemy women during war time and against the induction of women into the IDF — Eizenkot said Karim had received positive recommendations from the country’s chief rabbis and others during a background check. He maintained that Karim was the right person for the job.
Eizenkot also hit back at those who have accused the IDF of not doing enough to fight terror.
“There are soldiers who are killed and injured, and hundreds of soldiers who operate every night in order to reach these results and to eliminate terror, so there is no place for statements on a weak army,” he said.
Over the last 10 months, the IDF killed 166 “terrorists” in the West Bank, almost the same number as were killed in the previous seven years, Eisenkot revealed. In addition 3,200 suspects were arrested, 200 weapons were seized, and 20 lathes used for making weapons were destroyed.
Eisenkot warned that Gaza’s Hamas rulers have been gaining strength, while working to restrict rocket fire into Israel. Some NIS 2.2 billion ($570m) have been sunk into finding a solution to the threat of tunnels under the border with Gaza used by terrorists to strike inside Israel, he said, while another NIS 300 million ($78m) was spent on the Gaza border fence.
In the north, Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah has serious strategic problems due to the cost of its involvement in the Syrian civil war, he said.
After the meeting, the committee issued a statement calling for the IDF to be kept out of the political debate to enable it to better focus on its security mission.