The ultimate scope and scale of Israel's ongoing military operation in Gaza has yet to be determined, Israel's air force chief Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedy told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Given the immense complexity of warfare in Gaza, it might remain "at the current level" but it also might develop "into something far weightier," depending on the decisions of the Israeli political echelons, he said.
The primary imperative was to enable the safe return of captured IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, Shkedy said, "and we are truly making great efforts to find this soldier and bring him home."
However the ongoing operation was also "connecting up" to other, long-standing Israeli military activity relating to Gaza, including the non-stop battle against terrorists there in general, and against the cells firing Kassams into Israel in particular.
Asked whether "Operation Summer Rains" might be compared to the large-scale "Operation Defensive Shield" in the West Bank in 2002, and the goal then of dismantling terrorist infrastructure, Shkedy said he "wouldn't define it like that. Gaza is very complex. It can develop in all kinds of directions. There's a group of terrorists there and fighting them can develop into directions that are far from simple... This is an ongoing war [against terror] in many fields that is currently coming together. It has been going on for years. The air force is working every day, day and night, 24 hours a day."
Shkedy said he could not guarantee that the military actions being taken would ensure that Shalit was not smuggled out of the Strip, but said that the IDF was doing its utmost to prevent this.
He noted that the decision to target power installations had been approved this time after being rejected by the political echelon in the past, and that the attack on the three main bridges connecting southern Gaza to the north of the Strip was something that had not been done for years. In part, this was a consequence of the hundreds of Kassams fired at Israel of late, he said.
He said the Kassam crews were becoming increasingly "cynical," surrounding themselves with civilians in the knowledge that this would gain them immunity from IDF fire.
"They 'cloak' themselves in women and children and families. There can be a situation where for days we know a terrorist is in a certain place and we don't attack him... We feel that he's in a place that could be problematic. There are at least 10 operations we don't carry out for every one that we do," he said.
Acknowledging human and technical errors had led to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in recent air strikes, Shkedy stressed that every effort was made to prevent such mistakes. "But there is never a situation where somebody deliberately fires at those who are not involved [in terrorism]. There never has been and never will be such a situation. No one in the air force has done or will do such a thing ever," he said.
Shkedy stressed that the IAF had not relaxed its self-imposed restrictions on opening fire. "If we know that [the terrorist] is holding his son's hand, we do not fire. Even if the terrorist is in the midst of firing a Kassam. We do not fire. You should know that.
(The full interview with Maj.-Gen. Shkedy will appear in Friday's Jerusalem Post.)