IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot (R), Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: GPO)
On the surface, saying soldiers shouldn’t empty a magazine to subdue a teenage girl shouldn’t be controversial, but these are pretty unusual times.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s statement on Monday that he wouldn’t want to see a soldier empty a magazine to stop a 13-year-old girl armed with scissors struck a chord though, coming after months of almost daily, random stabbing attacks that have taken the lives of more than two dozen Israelis across the country.
The comments took on perhaps a more controversial hue on Thursday evening, when two 14-year-old Palestinian boys carried out a fatal stabbing attack in Sha’ar Binyamin, northeast of Jerusalem, that left a 21-year-old Israeli man dead.
Though he bore the wrath of a number of politicians, Eisenkot earned praise from current and former security officials, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Praise for Eisenkot also came from Yoram Schweitzer, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and the head of the institute’s program on terrorism and low-intensity conflict.
“He understands the need for using force but also the dangers in using force that is unrestrained or not targeted.”
He said the comments were “moral and correct” and that anyone who thinks they showed a level of mercy that could hurt the country’s deterrence against attackers is sorely mistaken.
“There won’t be any harm to our deterrence if we avoid using force on people who are already neutralized.”
In addition, he said the use of lethal force prevents security officials from being able to glean intelligence from them and can harm Israel in the court of public opinion.
Boaz Ganor, founder and executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, said that use of force needs to be examined in moral and operational terms.
“When it comes to morality - obviously the considerations made by children are not the same as those made by adults so it goes without saying that soldiers must use discretion and minimal power to stop a child committing an attack.”
From an operational standpoint, Ganor said killing attackers can be detrimental in that there is a phenomenon of copycats, especially among young Palestinians, and each “shahid” (martyr) becomes another model for others to copy.
“I wouldn’t want to see excessive restraint that will cause people to hesitate to defend themselves but you must understand that a dead Palestinian child is not good for Israel in any sense,” Ganor added.
In a rather less nuanced take, former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin said on Facebook Wednesday that “any fighter/ cop/or security guard who is incapable of disarming a 13-year-old girl holding knives or scissors shouldn’t be a fighter.”
All else aside, Eisenkot’s statement shows what is a rather common disconnect between the approach of politicians and security officials. It is part of a wider disparity between those who often look to rhetoric to secure political gains, and those looking to put out fires, politics be damned.
It can be seen in politicians like Likud MK Miri Regev and Bayit Yehudi’s Shuli Moalem-Refaeli who insisted on making visits to the Temple Mount, while senior police officials actually in charge of dealing with the rioting in Jerusalem said that if they could, they would ban all such visits until further notice, saying they play a direct role in sparking disturbances.
It can be seen when politicians like Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid or Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan say security forces must shoot to kill any attackers, even as then-acting police commissioner Bentzi Sau said that Israel Police had not eased their rules of engagement due to the wave of attacks and that officers are still instructed to shoot-to-subdue unless shooting to kill is absolutely necessary.
That sort of approach is not one tailored to politics, and is more suited to the drudgery of daily police work.
Whatever one thinks of Eisenkot’s comments, it doesn’t change the fact that many of these young attackers pose a deadly threat, despite their young age, as was seen Thursday night.
It doesn’t take the politicians’ approach that either celebrates the use of deadly force or accuses Israel of summarily executing Palestinian youths, but it may send a message that is more valuable: that every violent incident is different and must be judged on its own merits, and whenever possible, Israeli forces must avoid taking human life, especially when the attackers are children.