The IDF’s inquiries into its 50-day war with Hamas are not yet complete, but Israel’s defense establishment is nevertheless preparing for the possibility of “applying lessons learned” to other arenas, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday.
Speaking at a conference at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), held to examine the summer conflict, Ya’alon dismissed what he described as populist sloganeering launched by critics of the war – including cabinet ministers.
He said Israel succeeded in forcing its truce conditions on Hamas because of the skillful way in which it exercised its military power and the deliberate manner in which it achieved its limited goals.
“Deterrence – did we achieve it? We will know this in the future. I hope in the distant and not near future,” Ya’alon said. Warning of the need to avoid “being too transparent to the other side [Israel’s enemies],” Ya’alon said, “We knew what we wanted, and this came to pass – not by coincidence - through the Egyptian initiative.”
Noting that Hamas accepted the Egyptian cease-fire initiative nearly 50 days after rejecting the same exact proposal, Ya’alon said, “We got what we wanted. A truce under our conditions.” Israel did not want to reward Hamas for its aggression, Ya’alon said, a scenario that would have been realized had Israel accepted the Turkish-Qatari cease-fire proposal, which also received American backing.
Ya’alon launched scathing criticisms at unnamed cabinet ministers who “voted in favor” of the government’s war policies, but then blasted the same policies as being insufficient in public.
“The public didn’t understand the wider considerations.
Not just the tactical military considerations, but other considerations too,” Ya’alon said. “But leadership, I have to say, is not examined through populism or popularity, but by the long-term.”
During the war, Hamas’s leader Khaled Mashaal was sure Israeli society would break under the heavy rocket attacks, “but this didn’t happen,” Ya’alon said. “True, we were dragged into 51 days of war. On the other hand, we withstood this and did not break. Israel showed it can stand up to war that has the characteristics of attrition.”
Much of this was made possible by active defenses, in this case the Iron Dome missile defense system, Ya’alon said, which enabled Israel to resume normal life ten minutes after an air-raid siren, and avoid drastic damage to the economy, despite being targeted by 4,500 rockets from Gaza.
This may force Hezbollah to rethink its strategy of stockpiling 100,000 rockets, as Israeli air defenses are growing, and will soon include the David’s Sling system, Ya’alon said.
He also paid tribute to Israel’s investment in intelligence, which created 7,000 targets at an “amazing pace,” and transferred most of them to precision weapons systems.
The incoming head of Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen.
Herzl Halevi, has access to an intelligence budget of NIS 2 billion, Ya’alon said, saying the investment is crucial to Israel’s security.
“If another billion was added to that, it would not go to waste either,” Ya’alon said.
Talk of any Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is irrational, particularly in the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, Ya’alon said.
As soon as the Gaza conflict ended, people looked to renew the peace process and proposed territorial withdrawals in Judea and Samaria, he said.
“It is hard to imagine how one could rationally come to such a conclusion” Ya’alon said.
He added that he had already been of this belief even prior to Operation Protective Edge.
“In the current situation can you imagine even curtailing the IDF’s activities in Judea and Samaria?” Ya’alon asked.
This summer, from May to July, the IDF arrested 96 terrorists that had been trained to attacks Israelis and Palestinians, he said, adding that they were waiting Hamas orders topple Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
If there was a withdrawal, how would the IDF defend Ben-Gurion Airport or Tel Aviv, the defense minister asked, adding that a mortar could be used to attack the airport from the nearby West Bank hilltops.
If the IDF leaves, Hamas will take over and other terrorists groups such as the Islamic Jihad, Al-Qaida and Islamic State would operate in the West Bank, he said.
“How could we survive such a situation in Judea and Samaria?” he asked.
“When we talk about a new diplomatic horizon, we have to look for new directions. The prime minister hinted at them yesterday,” Ya’alon said.
"The changing Middle East offers new regional opportunities," he said.
“That is where we should seek new diplomatic horizons and not in the same concepts that have collapsed time after time,” Ya’alon said.
Ya’alon and the government took some criticism from several serious figures in the security establishment, such as Maj.-Gen. (res) Giora Eiland and INSS head Maj.- Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, who slammed the conduct of the war as hesitant and said that deciding to use ground forces took too long.
Responding to Ya’alon’s statement that the government acted responsibly by showing patience during the operation, Yadlin asked “what’s so good about patience” while rockets rain down on the country.
Yadlin added that the government had been too fast to throw out the IDF’s traditional doctrine of pushing hard to end wars fast and taking the war to enemy territory.
He said the state probably made this mistake because it had been too successful during the November 2012 Gaza war and overestimated that operation’s success and its advantages over Hamas.
Also, Yadlin slammed Ya’alon and former National Security Council head Ya’acov Amidror, who also spoke, for setting up a straw man that the state’s only options had been either to conquer Gaza or the very limited ground operation that it undertook.
Rather, the IDF could have hit Hamas much harder and driven far deeper into Gaza than it did, while still clearly stopping short of toppling Hamas, Yadlin and Eiland said.
Looking toward the future, Eiland said that the state seemed to be considering a limited set of options when it should be considering greater strategic shifts and tradeoffs, such as a grand gesture of granting Hamas a port it has requested in exchange for disarmament.
Yadlin commented that the state had abandoned the goal of disarmament that it emphasized mid-war and switched to talking about clearing tunnels, as if to say the state carelessly just realized that Hamas, without pressure or incentives, was as “likely to disarm as a Jew to give up his tefillin.”