Gaza pullout 248.88.
(photo credit: IDF)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared victory as the IDF completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday putting an official end to Operation Cast Lead against Hamas.
"We won in a big way," Barak said in a televised interview. "Hamas was dealt a blow it never imagined and will be quiet now for a long time."
Most of the reservists were released from duty and a majority of the regular-service units were redeployed along the Gaza border ahead of a potential renewal of hostilities. Defense officials warned Wednesday that Israel would respond harshly to Hamas provocations.
In the afternoon, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant met with the commanders of special forces units employed inside the Gaza Strip during the operation. The commanders shared their experiences with Galant. Commander of the K-9 Oketz unit told Galant that three dogs were killed during the campaign.
Other elite units that participated in the fighting were the naval commandos (Shayetet 13), the Shaldag air force commandos and the undercover Duvdevan unit.
"I am convinced that you could have gone deeper and farther [into Gaza] than you actually did," Galant told the commanders. Oketz dogs were deployed with all of the infantry units in the Gaza Strip and according to IDF sources saved dozens of lives by warning of booby-trapped homes after detecting the scent of explosives.
Earlier Wednesday, Barak said the operation was successful in creating a new security reality in southern Israel.
"We achieved a significant boost to our deterrence against Hamas and at the same time boosted our deterrence throughout the entire region," he said during a navy ceremony in Haifa.
Barak defended the IDF's operation, which resulted in mass devastation throughout Gaza. "We are not happy about the destruction in the Gaza Strip and we regret the loss of civilian lives," he said. "Hamas determined the theater of this conflict and its operatives were the targets for IDF attacks. Their operations from within densely populated areas, schools, hospitals and mosques endangered the residents of Gaza."