Top general: This Gaza conflict will be a success if it brings 5 years of calm

Head of IDF Operations acknowledges Israel was caught off guard by Hamas rocket fire at Jerusalem, but says it turned the tables, setting back terror group considerably

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

Rockets are launched towards Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, on May 17, 2021. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Rockets are launched towards Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, on May 17, 2021. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

A top Israel Defense Forces general on Tuesday said he would consider the current round of fighting in the Gaza Strip to be a success if it ensured calm along the border for the next five years.

“If you force me into a corner and ask me what is reasonable to consider a success, I would say at least five years and even more than that,” the head of IDF Operations, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, told the Kan public broadcaster.

Haliva made his remarks as reports emerged from Egypt, Israel and Gaza late Tuesday night that a ceasefire agreement may be in the works between Israel and the Hamas terror group — which has ruled Gaza since taking it over in a coup in 2007 — potentially bringing an end to the vicious fighting between the two sides that has left at least 12 people dead in Israel and over 200 dead in Gaza.

IDF officials have until now largely refrained from setting a precise goal for the current campaign, dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls, preferring instead to say more generally that the mission is to significantly weaken Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second most powerful terror group in the Strip.

Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva during a ceremony in June 2014. (Israel Defense Forces)

In this round of fighting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government did not seek to topple Hamas, believing that the high cost of such an operation and the potentially more dangerous chaos that may fill the vacuum left behind in its wake would make such a prospect untenable.

Instead, the government believes that limiting Hamas’s capabilities and building deterrence to prevent it from conducting attacks in the short term are Israel’s best option at this time.

In a candid on-air interview, Haliva acknowledged that the military did not fully anticipate Hamas’s decision to fire rockets at Jerusalem last Monday evening, believing that group would have preferred to maintain quiet ahead of the approaching Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr in order to allow residents of the Strip to celebrate in peace, rather than spark a major clash with Israel.

Yet Haliva asserted that the IDF responded far more forcefully than Hamas had expected.

Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, speaks to foreign correspondents in his office in Gaza City, May 10, 2018. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

“I think that the people who were mistaken, more than anyone else, were [Hamas’s leader in Gaza] Yahya Sinwar and [Hamas military chief] Muhammad Deif. They believed they’d be able to fire at Jerusalem and it would end with some limited kind of response from the IDF and the State of Israel. And they will look back on that decision and think of it as a significant error,” Haliva said, speaking outside IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv.

“I didn’t assess that Hamas would fire rockets at Jerusalem. But the big mistake was Hamas’s. It has paid a price for it, and will continue to pay a price for it,” he said.

“At the end of the day, all of the things that Hamas built over these many years, or at least most of the things it has built over these many years, have not succeeded,” he said.

Haliva appeared to refer to drones and autonomous submarines that Hamas developed in recent years and which the terror group failed to deploy in a significant way during the past nine days of fighting.

On Tuesday night, initial reports from Palestinian sources emerged regarding an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, which was said to come into effect at 6 a.m. on Thursday morning. According to Channel 12 news, Hamas had agreed to the arrangement.

Israeli and Palestinian officials issued denials, and a diplomatic source familiar with Egyptian ceasefire efforts told The Times of Israel that talks were still ongoing and that no agreement had been reached.

Another Israeli official, however, told the Haaretz daily on Tuesday night that barring any last-minute surprises, a ceasefire would likely be reached by Thursday morning.

“There is no decisive [win] and there likely won’t be,” the official said. “Everyone is tired.”

A top view shows the remains of a six-story building that was destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, May 18, 2021, amid fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and the coastal enclave’s Hamas rulers. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

According to Channel 13, Hamas was seeking reassurances from Israel that it would not attempt to kill the terror group’s leaders during the ceasefire — a demand rejected by Israel — while Jerusalem was demanding the terror group hold its fire for several hours while it weighs the ceasefire offer, a condition rejected by Hamas.

Netanyahu earlier on Tuesday said the military operation, now in its ninth day, will go on for “as long as needed to restore calm for the citizens of Israel.”

Palestinian terror groups have fired over 3,500 rockets at Israel since last Monday, drawing heavy retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.

Twelve people in Israel, three of them foreign nationals, have been killed in the rocket fire from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, and hundreds have been injured.

According to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, at least 213 Palestinians have been killed so far in the nine days of the conflict, including more than 60 children. It was not immediately clear if that ministry tally included all of those killed or if there were Hamas operatives not included in the count. According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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