“The threat of Hamas tunnels is grave, but it does not constitute an existential or strategic threat to Israel,” Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said on Wednesday, as he defended the IDF’s performance during the 2014 Gaza War in the face of harsh criticism by the recent State Comptroller’s Report.
Eisenkot made the statement to the Knesset State Control Committee.
The Comptroller’s Report highlighted the military’s failure to prepare for the Hamas tunnel threat, slammed the IDF for intelligence failures, suggested that the war was possibly unnecessary and said it should not have dragged on for 50 days.
Eisenkot made public comments before the committee followed by a classified session behind closed doors.
During the public comments, the IDF chief welcomed the Comptroller’s Report, saying that it “aided the IDF in the process it had already begun immediately after the war of learning the lessons” of Operation Protective Edge.
He acknowledged that the attack tunnels led to the deaths of 13 soldiers, saying that it marked “the first time the army had dealt with fullfledged underground warfare.”
Eisenkot added, however, that the IDF did manage to find and destroy 31 tunnels, something that “would not have been possible without excellent intelligence work.”
While the tunnels constitute a serious threat, they are just one of many that Israel is facing, including from Hezbollah, Hamas rockets, Sinai, the West Bank, Syria and the Iranian nuclear threat.
As in a speech he gave on Tuesday, he mentioned the Iranian nuclear threat last.
He added that with all of these threats, “we can’t have optimal responses to every threat,” must prioritize resources and must even take risks in certain areas since resources are not unlimited.
However, the IDF has dedicated major resources to combat the tunnel threat, Eisenkot said, both from Hamas and from Hezbollah in the North. He said that the army had dedicated an additional NIS 1.2 billion to technological solutions to the tunnel issue and additional billions to improving intelligence and related issues, as well as establishing special units to deal with the underground threat.
He acknowledged that there were still shortcomings in the preparedness to deal with tunnels, but claimed that Israel was more advanced than any other country, including the US and South Korea, at doing so.
Defending the IDF’s performance during Operation Protective Edge, he said that the result has been a period of quiet on the Gaza border unparalleled in the last 40 years.
The IDF chief also discussed the way the army had adjusted to dealing with the Hamas rocket threat in order to maintain deterrence.
“We had an arrangement in which they fired a rocket and we fired shells. We learned we could not tolerate this,” he said.
Now, if Hamas or anyone else from Gaza fires a rocket, “we hit valuable Hamas targets – not empty locations of small arms.
It gives us more deterrence.”
Even with what he called the IDF’s progress, he cautioned against complacency, saying deterrence is an amorphous concept that evolves dynamically in changing circumstances.
Earlier, committee chairwoman Karin Elharar said “the most important thing is... taking responsibility for the failures, and then to move forward and to try to fix them without compromises.”
Elharar showered Eisenkot with praise for addressing the war’s failures and making changes, while backhandedly criticizing “other officials” (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon) who have not acted similarly in her view.
Likewise, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira complimented Eisenkot for implementing the recommendations of the report even before it was completed.
Further and significantly for future appointments, Shapira complimented incoming IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen.
Aviv Kochavi for his openness and work in implementing the recommendations.
Shapira’s complimenting of Kochavi could pave the way for Kochavi to succeed Eisenkot down the road, despite the fact that Shapira’s report harshly criticized Kochavi and IDF Military Intelligence as making intelligence errors when he headed it during the war.
Wednesday’s was the second of three major hearings on the issue.
The first hearing on Sunday highlighted criticism of Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, who was national security adviser at the time of the war, and Cohen’s responses to the criticism.