An Islamic Jihad militant attends an anti-Israel rally in Rafah..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Not only Hamas, but even Islamic Jihad is currently deterred from fighting with the Israeli military, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon told an audience at The Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at IDC Herzliya.conference Monday night.
Ya’alon said that the beating which the IDF gave Gaza in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge had successfully brought “complete quiet” to the Palestinian enclave, despite small groups of Salafists and ISIS wannabees that occasionally fired rockets into open fields to show their frustration with Hamas.
He made the comments as part of a conference on the future threats Israel faces and in honor of Brig.-Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch’s new book Defensive Shield
Emphasizing the IDF’s power relative to its adversaries, he said, “we could have ended the [2014 Gaza] war in eight days” as opposed to the 50 days it took. However, he did not divulge further into why the government did not try to end the war sooner.
The former defense minister had some other optimistic comments, stating that the Lebanese, Syrian and Jordanian borders are all relatively quiet and that threats from jihadists in the Sinai also do not rise beyond a certain threshold.
Even as Ya’alon signaled optimism in those areas, his comments about US President-elect Donald Trump, ISIS and “the main enemy” of Iran were much more sober.
Pointing at the possibility that US policy on the Middle East may change after Trump takes office on January 20, Ya'alon stated that "In recent years, the current American government decided to be very passive and to disengage from the Middle East.”
“We do not have the same interests as everyone. Everyone views ISIS as an enemy. For us, Iran is still the central enemy and suddenly it changed to part of the solution for the US,” he said, arguing that Iran is exploiting the current situation to “acquire hegemonic power in the region."
While unsure that Trump would view US interests as identical to Israeli interests, he did express hope that Trump would take a stronger stance than the outgoing Obama administration at pressing Iran to reduce its sponsorship of terror.
After Ya'alon's remarks, the former deputy head of the Mossad and current Strategic Affairs Ministry Director-General Ram Ben Barak discussed challenges faced by intelligence agencies, saying that “in the age of social media” they “cannot go back to what was and must switch disks” and their mentality.
Despite challenges faced by intelligence agencies, he said that “we know how to use covert operations very well. I won’t specify, but we know how to stop [enemy] countries from achieving things they want to achieve.” He comments were in line with standard code language many officials use for Israeli attacks on weapons transfer in Syria, which Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has confirmed.
Discussing future scenarios, the former deputy spy chief said, “let’s say you want to destroy a [nuclear program] core. You can send aircraft and bomb the core which will be destroyed, but that is almost like declaring war. Or you could also do it with commandos, destroy it just the same…no one sees them go in or out and no one declares war.”
Continuing to praise the use of special operations on the ground, he said, “we need to invest more funds in special operations units, even if it means fewer aircraft or tanks. There is no choice in light of what is happening in the region…there should be more covert operations.”
IDC Lauder School Dean Boaz Ganor partially agreed with Ben Barak, but said that there needs to be an “integration” of airpower and covert operations to address the region’s newest threats.
Pointing to defeating ISIS as an example, he said that the US could not defeat ISIS because it “refused to put boots on the ground” and was very strict about avoiding collateral damage to civilians when targeting ISIS in urban areas. Emphasizing the importance of special operations, he said, “if you won’t put boots on the ground, then at least sandals,” noting “when you fight with a terror group in civilian areas, you cannot be decisive without boots on ground.”
Regarding airpower he said, “Who won the war? It was Russia, who…used massive power” without worrying about collateral damage in a way “the US would not do.”
Ganor advised the US and the West to “raise the intensity of air strikes” even if that “raised the amount of collateral damage” provided international law was still not violated – implying that the Obama administration’s standard for avoiding civilian casualties has been stricter than the international law standard.
Also addressing the conference were Hirsch, whose book covers his decades as a special forces commander, Brig.-Gen. (res.) and former Prime Minister’s Office Counter-Terrorism Bureau Director Nitzan Nuriel, Maj.-Gen. (res.) and MK Eyal Reuven (Zionist Union.)