A decline in the public’s trust in the “people’s army” would be problematic for the IDF, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.
Gadi Eisenkot told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday.
Eisenkot criticized politicization of the public discourse about the military, in an apparent reference to politicians taking sides in the ongoing trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, who shot and killed a subdued terrorist in Hebron earlier this year.
“Recent comments heard about operative issues that are being checked by the legal system and IDF commanders are unwanted and do not influence our internal processes,” he said. “A lot of things were said without knowing the facts to promote agendas that should not be connected to the IDF.
“We want the IDF to follow orders, the rules of engagement, the spirit of the IDF [the army’s ethical code], and the values of the IDF. If someone wants us to have the ethos of a gang, he should say so,” Eisenkot remarked.
The chief of staff explained that since the IDF is made up of different parts of society, the public becomes aware of any problem it may have almost immediately.
“Today, a high percentage of the public has trust in the army, but I certainly see the potential for harm in the public’s trust in the IDF as a serious problem that can make it difficult for the people’s army to fill its role,” he warned.
In light of Eisenkot’s comments, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) drafted a resolution, which the committee approved, in support of the chief of staff and IDF commanders, calling to keep the military out of political disputes in order not to damage the public’s trust in the IDF.
Eisenkot also responded to a question about incoming IDF Chief Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim, whose past statements created a storm of protest earlier this month.
Karim was asked, in the context of an “Ask the Rabbi” column in 2003, how the Torah could condone the rape of non-Jewish women by Jewish soldiers during wartime, and he explained the Torah’s rationale.
When a blogger seized upon his answer in 2012, claiming Karim was allowing IDF soldiers to rape women, the rabbi issued a clarification that he was referring only to the biblical verse, and that “it is clear that in our times... this law cannot be utilized and, further, that it totally contradicts the values and regulations of the army.”
Eisenkot said that Karim was vetted well, including through sources outside of the IDF, and he was universally praised. He said Karim issued lenient religious rulings and forged creative solutions with a patriotic view.
As for reports Karim opposed women enlisting in the IDF, Eisenkot said the opposite was true; the rabbi was praised for his actions to encourage female enlistment.
Eisenkot took a different tone in connection to Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, head of the premilitary academy in Eli in the West Bank. Levenstein said in a speech earlier this month that he prevented homosexuals, whom he described as “perverts,” from giving lectures on tolerance in the IDF officers’ training course.
The chief of staff condemned Levenstein’s statements and said he instructed that all his activity in the army be put to a stop until the Defense Ministry’s director-general finishes looking into the matter.
Eisenkot gave Levenstein credit for heading an institution that brought many combat soldiers and officers into the IDF, but said that is not enough to cancel out the severity of his remarks.
“I don’t see any situation today in which a soldier can say a rabbi or someone else told him to go against an order he received. From the first day of enlistment, they receive an explanation on the difference between civilians and soldiers, what orders mean, and what is the spirit of the IDF,” the chief of staff added.
Eisenkot also addressed the current wave of terrorism, and contrasted the drop in attacks with criticism that the IDF is not fighting enough.
“There are soldiers who are killed and wounded, and hundreds of soldiers fighting every night to bring these results, to eradicate terrorism, so there is no place for statements making the army sound weak,” he stated.
In the last 10 months, more than 3,200 arrests were made, over 200 weapons were confiscated and 20 weapons lathes were destroyed. Soldiers killed 166 terrorists in the West Bank, as well as seven people who were uninvolved in terrorist activities.
Eisenkot expressed regret about the uninvolved people who were killed.
The chief of staff said that, because of the IDF’s actions, there is “a growing understanding on the Palestinian street that choosing terrorism is pointless.”
In addition, he posited that economic factors deter many Palestinians from turning to terrorism.
In the Gaza Street, Eisenkot said, Hamas is taking advantage of the “two quietest years on the border since 1968” to grow stronger, and has been acting to prevent rocket attacks, most of which are perpetrated by Salafi groups, since the IDF responds by attacking Hamas targets.
More than NIS 1.2 billion has been invested in finding a response to terrorist tunnels, in addition to NIS 300 million spent to build an underground barrier along the Gaza border.
Eisenkot said Hezbollah is facing a “deep strategic crisis” over its great losses in Syria, though the fighters who survived gained operative experience.
Hezbollah has more rockets than ever before, and they are not being used in Syria, but Israel’s intelligence and operative abilities have improved measurably since the Second Lebanon War 10 years ago, the chief of staff added, saying the IDF is working to deter and forestall threats.