Rejecting the argument that Israel must reach a political accommodation with the Palestinians to reduce terrorism to manageable proportions, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz has told The Jerusalem Post that there is a military solution to terrorism and that Israel is well on the way to achieving it.
"In contrast to the theory that the army cannot exterminate terrorism, I believe the army can reduce terrorism to the very lowest level," Halutz told the Post in an extensive interview coinciding with the High Holy Days.
He said he couldn't expect to reach a level of terrorism at "absolute zero" because "nothing in life can be brought to absolute zero." But the thesis that there was no military answer to terrorism, he insisted, was wrong and demonstrably so. It had been disproved by the British in Malaysia, he said, and more recently in Ireland.
The IDF was now disproving it in the Palestinian context, where there had been a steady decline in incidents in recent years not for lack of motivation, but rather because of the policies that the army had been following and continues to follow, he said.
Halutz added that he did not believe this trend would be undermined by the pullout from Gaza.
"That's not to say that the Gaza pullout won't lead [Palestinian terror groups] to try to escalate terrorism," he cautioned. "But [the pullout] won't harm our ability to counter it."
Robust and upbeat in the interview, Halutz, who became Israel's 18th chief of General Staff in June, declared unequivocally that the country's geo-strategic position was better now than it had been at any time in modern Israeli history. The threat of all-out war was lower than it had been at any point in the past 57 years, he said. Israel's enemies did not constitute a threat in the short term, he said firmly.
The economy was thriving, he said, the military was strong, terror was a threat but Israel was countering it, and the country's international legitimacy was growing.
This last he ascribed to the fact that, tragically, more nations were feeling the impact of international terrorism and were gaining a better understanding of what Israel has been going through.
The Gaza pullout had also boosted Israel's standing, he said, because it had demonstrated that "we don't want wars here; we want to live in peace."
Still, he stressed, "This is the Middle East" and "there are bonfires burning all the time around us." Too many of Israel's neighbors and the Palestinians first and foremost were not reconciled to the fact of Israel's existence, he said, and it was therefore crucial that Israel's military strength and preeminence be constantly obvious to its neighbors so that they not be tempted into testing Israel's capabilities.
Regarding the specific threat posed by Iran's strides towards nuclear capability, Halutz stressed that a nuclear Teheran was a global problem rather than solely an Israeli one, and that he hoped the EU-led, US-backed effort to find a diplomatic way out of the impasse would be productive. But "if it doesn't succeed, additional possibilities will have to be weighed here, too," he said.
Asked whether, as in 1981 before Israel blew up then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor at Osirak, the conventional wisdom that Israel had no military option available was mistaken, Halutz offered a flat "no comment." But "in the end," added the first ex-air force commander to serve as chief of staff, "we will not be anybody's hostages. The Jewish people are done with being hostage to anyone."
The full interview with Halutz will appear in Friday's Post.