Ashkenazi: Expect violence, but no intifada, if talks fail

IDF chief warns probes of soldiers hamper effectiveness; CGS takes swipe at Barak for early appointment of Galant.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
September 22, 2010 01:40
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi speaks publicly for the first time on Wednesday.

Ashkenazi 311. (photo credit: Channel 10)

 
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The IDF is prepared for a wave of attacks should peace talks break down, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi revealed Tuesday, but added that he did not believe that the “Palestinian response to any breakdown of talks would be initially similar to the events of fall 2000” that marked the launching of the second intifada.

In a lengthy briefing of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that at times seemed more like a final assessment than a routine report, Ashkenazi, who steps down from his post in February, did not just assess the IDF’s preparedness, but also his own response to the so-called Galant Document. He even took a muted swing at Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

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“If the talks with the Palestinians fail, we don’t plan to find ourselves in a situation like in September 2000,” Ashkenazi told the committee, which had almost complete attendance although the session was held in the midst of the Knesset recess.

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“There is a certain level of limited expectation in the field among the Palestinians – we are following that and it is the central thing that we are keeping our eyes on in the West Bank.”

The IDF, Ashkenazi said, is prepared for a wave of attacks following the peace talks, and was aware even before last month’s deadly shooting attack near Kiryat Arba that there was an active and organized Hamas infrastructure in the south Hebron Hills.

“We have known about them for a while,” said Ashkenazi, “but to my dismay, we have yet to get our hands on them.”

The IDF has, in the last two months, initiated 848 missions arrested 447 Palestinians.





The IDF’s activities in the West Bank, he said, include coordination with the Palestinian security services, “but every place in which the IDF feels that we need to be, we are – including the casbah in Nablus,” he added.

Ashkenazi added that another element of the situation in the West Bank was the fact that “the Jewish population expects that after it maintained the freeze and cooperated with the law, that people keep their word, and that they will renew building,” warning that there could be demonstrations if they were not allowed to do so.

He noted that while there has been recent discussion of settlers’ weapons being seized by police, more West Bank residents have weapons provided by the army than ever before.

The chief of General Staff also assessed the threats that the IDF faced from abroad, including from Iran and Turkey, as well as from a series of flotillas currently being planned to challenge Israel’s partial blockade of Gaza.

“The Kamalist heritage is in decline in Turkey,” Ashkenazi told the MKs, emphasizing that while the IDF maintains good ties with the Turkish army, the Ankara government is continuously trying to reduce the status of the army.

At the same time, he warned, there are a number of flotillas being organized throughout the world, including one that intends to sail up the Red Sea and then enter Gaza through an overland route, and a European and American flotilla that he described as “especially challenging” because it is due to include dozens of ships.

Israel, he said, has tried to take political action to prevent these flotillas from departing, but has been told by foreign governments that they cannot stop civil actions organized by non-governmental organizations.

Ashkenazi warned that even after reviewing the lessons of the seizure of the Turkish-sponsored flotilla in May, if a similar incident occurs in which flotilla participants violently resist the IDF forces, he “cannot promise that it will also not end with casualties.”

Ashkenazi blasted the five probes into the May incident aboard the Mavi Marmara, saying that five investigations – three Israeli and two international – did not achieve the purpose of studying the incident to gain understandings of how to improve future responses.

Instead, he complained, “a pattern of behavior has been established that every time our soldiers return from operational activity, an investigative committee awaits them. I am worried that as a result, people will be afraid to take risks. I want in our profession – which is assessing dangerous risks – people to continue to take risks.”

But the Mavi Marmara probe was not the only issue upon which the usually restrained general spoke his mind Tuesday.

For the first time publicly, Ashkenazi criticized the earlierthan- expected appointment of his replacement, Maj.-Gen.

Yoav Galant, by Barak.

Although Ashkenazi emphasized that he and Galant are currently cooperating well in executing the IDF’s new multiyear plan and in planning the transition between them, he also noted that defense ministers generally appointed a new chief of staff between three and four months before the previous chief of General Staff was set to retire.

Such a period, said Ashkenazi, “allows for a thorough transition, but does not prolong a state” in which there is a “lame-duck’’ at the head of the IDF.

Ashkenazi, whose tension with Barak is well-publicized, told the MKs that he had already expressed his opinion on the matter to both Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Regarding the Galant Document, the forged letter that stood at the center of a scandal linked to the appointment of the next chief of General Staff, Ashkenazi said that although he had received a copy of the document, he had stored it in a drawer.

“I did not want to address this document in an attempt to prevent what happened anyway afterwards,” he explained.

He added that he “would welcome any probe into the affair as long as it was professional and objective” – a slam at the probe of the document launched by Barak.

Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.


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