PASSING THE torch: Successor Aviv Kochavi (left) with Eisenkot..
(photo credit: IDF)
"I can say with full confidence that we found all Hezbollah tunnels infiltrating into Israel," outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told Army Radio in a farewell interview on Monday morning.
Eisenkot took a stand on several current security and defense issues, just before leaving his post after 40 years of service in the Israeli Army.
He lauded as a success Operation Northern Shield - the mission launched in early December
to locate and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels infiltrating into Israel from Lebanon - and confirmed that upon locating the sixth and most sophisticated attack tunnel on Sunday, Israel has found the last of them.
"I can say with full confidence that we found all the tunnels infiltrating into Israel," Eisenkot said.
Admitting that Hezbollah dug several more tunnels within Lebanon, he said that Israel was not going to operate beyond the borders of its territory, focusing instead on its excellent intelligence and cooperation with UNIFIL to prevent further threats.
The outgoing chief of staff added that he was happy that the operation did not lead to a military confrontation with Hezbollah and that Israel will continue to work against the terror organization's aspiration to build a depot of precision-guided missiles.
Iran remained Israel's main security threat during his tenure, Eisenkot said, defining the danger in a three-pronged manner: Hezbollah serves as an extension of Iran's terror arm in Lebanon; continues to attempt the stockpiling of nuclear weapons; and further entrenches itself in Syria, he explained.
Eisenkot wouldn't corroborate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's confirmation of Israel's striking in Syria last Friday
night, insisting on upholding the prior policy of not confirming such strikes, and adding that he believes it is the best policy for Israel.
Netanyahu takes responsibility for Saturday attacks at Damascus airport, January 13, 2019 (GPO)
"We will continue to harm those who wish to harm us," he said.
Turning to the Israel's southern border, Eisenkot said that Gaza remains a serious threat, but one largely under control by Israel's security authorities.
The challenge, he admitted, was to retain both the actual calm and the feeling of calm in the border communities and to build protection against new activities by local terror organizations. He added that returning the missing soldiers and civilians held by Hamas
remained a priority and that Israel was also working to avoid a humanitarian crisis in the Strip
Pressed on the fire terrorism by incendiary devices launched into Israel over the past year, especially over the summer, Eisenkot said that Israel used the necessary force against Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.
More than half of the forested areas around the Gaza Strip were destroyed
due to fires caused by incendiary balloons and other inflammatory devices launched from the Strip.
All in all, Eisenkot concluded, the last four years were the quietest four-year period around the Gaza border since the Six Day War in 1967 and didn't cost Israel any civilian lives, adding that the current situation didn't justify any ground offensive in Gaza.
Looking back at his tenure, Eisenkot didn't feel that the story of Elor Azaria was a stain on his legacy, saying that the "affair overshadowed him, not my term."
Circling back to the March 2016 Hebron shooting incident when Azaria shot a Palestinian terrorist as he lay on the ground, Eisenkot repeated that Azaria did not represent IDF soldiers, and that he paid the necessary price.
"Whoever says that the story of Elor Azaria should have been closed within the unit does not know the IDF of 2018," he said.
The soon-to-be former chief of staff did point out the necessity of an inclusive army which can house different mentalities and ethnicities under one roof.
"The IDF without cooperation is like a city without traffic lights. Therefore, you need the cooperation of irreligious, religious, Arabs and Druze in the army," he said.
Outgoing chiefs of staff are prohibited by law to enter politics immediately after their term, but Eisenkot said that he would not have taken that step right away even if he had been allowed to do so, instead looking forward to some rest and maybe some studies.
Asked about his predecessors running for Knesset in the current election, he said that he had "fantastic" relationships with Benny Gantz and Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon.
Yvette J. Deane contributed to this report.
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