“This is not an ‘operation’ now – it’s a war about our survival,” said retired IDF brigadier general, war hero and former politician Avigdor Kahalani Sunday, regarding Operation Protective Edge. “I was among those who tried to convince the government to go in.”
In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Kahalani, who was awarded the nation’s highest military honor following the Yom Kippur War, discussed why the IDF must ignore international pressure and stay in Gaza until Hamas is “demilitarized.”
“[Hamas] pulled us into this war, we didn’t want it,” the 30-year officer said by phone Sunday afternoon. “They didn’t take the cease-fire, which means they want war; war means you use all the army – ground forces, navy and air force together.”
Asked about piquing international pressure for Israel to cease its ground operation against the terrorist organization, the celebrated veteran, who has since become the chairman of the Association for the well being of Israel’s Soldiers, said the IDF must not waver.
“Can you imagine Russia or the US accepting missiles launched into their countries and not reacting?,” he asked. “We would look like a paper tiger if we didn’t use our forces against them. There is a moment when a nation must protect itself, and that moment is now.”
Indeed, according to Kahalani, who has raised over $4 million for the operation through his NGO from countries including the US, Canada, Panama and Mexico, the only acceptable response against Hamas is an unequivocal show of strength.
The international benefactors include Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in the US and Panama (FIDF), the Association for the Soldiers of Israel-Canada (ASI), the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), the Associations for the Soldiers-UK (AWIS UK), the Yoter association and Haguda lemaan Hahayal Mexico (HLH).
“All our enemies were waiting to see how we are going to react with strength, and if we didn’t react it would have given them more courage in the future,” he warned.
While Kahalani acknowledged the international media’s skewed reporting against Israel’s “aggression” against Gazans, who are being used as human shields by Hamas, he emphasized that the alternative to ending the conflict unconditionally will result in an acute existential crisis.
“I know the media works against us, but what can we do, go to the cemetery and die?” he asked rhetorically. “No, this is not an option. We’re living in a jungle, and only the strong survive. If you are weak, they will eat you.”
Still, Kahalani described the IDF ground offensive as highly complicated due to the fact that Hamas has embedded itself within the civilian population in populated areas.
“This is different than fighting in the desert,” he said. “There is a lot of risk because Hamas uses [noncombatants] to protect them. Many of their bunkers are under kindergartens, mosques, hospitals and houses, which means they have the ability to cause many casualties to their own people, and for the IDF.”
Meanwhile, Kahalani noted that no military in history has made as many preemptive attempts to warn noncombatants to flee as the IDF during this conflict. “We tried to get them to leave before we attacked,” he said. “Do you know of any other army in the world who does this?” Despite the dangers the growing ground operation engenders for both sides, the former general described Operation Protective Edge as an “opportunity to win.”
“We’re going to find all the tunnels and destroy them, and the bunkers holding all their ammunition,” he said. “We don’t have a goal to stay in Gaza, but we have to protect Israel and create peace and quiet. Their goal is to destroy Israel, but we don’t have a spare country.”
With respect to an acceptable resolution to end the war, Kahalani said “only outside pressure can put an end to it,” citing Russian and American intervention via the United Nations.
“We would prefer to see outside supervision of Gaza, which would be good for all of us, including the Palestinians,” he said. “If UN forces can observe and control the area, and after two or three years they want peace with us, they can build their country and open their borders.”
Kahalani continued: “Otherwise [Prime Minister] Binyamin Netanyahu needs to stay on the ground for as long as it takes until the mission is accomplished.”
Conceding that such a mission would likely take “many weeks,” Kahalani said the IDF has no option other than destroying all of Hamas’ considerable arsenal.
Until Gazans elect new leadership, whose platform does not demand the destruction of Israel, the IDF must be prepared to do “whatever is necessary to protect the nation,” he said.
“We have a dream that we will achieve peace and no longer fight, and even visit each others territories,” he said. “We want for them to accept that we are here.”
Kahalani continued: “They need to understand that we can’t and won’t move from here. We don’t have a spare country.”