The swirling debate over IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot comments last Wednesday about the rules of engagement in confronting terrorists is a “pointless debate” meant to score “political points,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.
Netanyahu’s comments at the weekly cabinet meeting, his first on the matter, came after sharp criticism he faced over the weekend for “not backing up” the IDF head.
“Last week there was debate surrounding remarks by the chief of staff,” the prime minister said. “This a pointless debate. What the chief of staff said is self-evident, and in any case, the IDF and the security forces operate in this manner.”
According to Netanyahu, everything said following Eisenkot comments “was said either out of misunderstanding or a desire to score political points. Both are unacceptable.
We need to put this matter aside and move on, and this is exactly what we will do at this meeting.”
Eisenkot, speaking last week in Bat Yam to high school youth soon to enter the army, said in responses to a question about the army’s rules of engagement, “I would not like to see a soldier empty a magazine on a young girl with scissors.”
The IDF, he said, does not operate “according to slogans like, ‘Rise up to kill those who come to kill you.’ A soldier can release his safety latch and fire if there is a danger to him or his comrades.”
In November, one teenage Palestinian girl was killed, and another teenage girl was wounded, when they were shot by a passerby as they attacked a man with scissors in Jerusalem.
Following Netanyahu’s remarks, Eisenkot briefed the cabinet on the security situation in the region, and the challenges and threats facing Israel.
“The government policy is to take strong action both defensively and offensively, in defending our borders by operating both within and beyond them,” Netanyahu said before Eisenkot’s briefing. “This is the reason why – relative to other countries in the region – the State of Israel is in a strong position, and we will see to it that this continues.”
Eisenkot, who took fire last week for his words from Transportation Minister Israel Katz and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, both from the Likud, enjoyed backing from a number of ministers on their way into the cabinet meeting on Sunday morning.
Construction Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu), a major-general in the reserves, said it was Eisenkot’s responsibility to establish and explain the rules of engagement, “and I am happy he did that.”
Interior Minister Arye Deri (Shas) called Eizenkot a strong man of values who is running the army in a professional manner, and said that Eisenkot had his full backing.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he had no criticism of Eisenkot’s comments, but that his words “unfortunately were taken out of context,” saying this was done by the media that likes to find “cracks” between the political and security establishment.
“I made clear that despite what could be understood in the media debate, not by what the chief of staff said, there was not a real incident where a magazine was emptied,” Erdan said. “I suggest that we finish this discussion and relax.”
Erdan said the Eisenkot has the backing of the entire cabinet, “certainly from me, and the police and the army are working together in an excellent way to try and put an end to the current wave of terrorism.”