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OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said nothing new when he told an audience at a school on Wednesday that the IDF realized that there was no chance of releasing IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in a military operation two hours after their capture by Hizbullah. An Israeli soldier, dead or alive, is the ultimate prize for terrorist organizations and they take every precaution, using all of their resources to protect this valuable bargaining chip. Even if the IDF knows where the prisoner is being held, as according to foreign sources is the case with Cpl. Gilad Schalit being held somewhere in the Gaza Strip, the assumption is that he is surrounded by such a mass of trigger-happy guards and explosive devices as to render any rescue attempt a death sentence. As strange as it might sound, it was simpler to rescue 105 hostages at Entebbe in 1976 than it is to winkle one or two prisoners out of the clutches of Hamas and Hizbullah. The IDF learned that the hard way 13 years ago when Sayeret Matkal failed to save Nachshon Wachsman in an operation that cost the lives both of Wachsman and Captain Nir Poraz.
Neither is it a bombshell that, originally, the operation was planned to last between four and six days and to be relatively limited in its scope. If the army had even dreamed of launching a full-scale incursion into South Lebanon during the first week of the crisis, there would have been an immediate wide-scale mobilization of the reserve units so they could be properly trained for their missions. But we know that already from a plethora of politicians' admissions, media revelations and two books that are already out on the war. It's not coincidence that the Winograd Commission's "partial report" due out next Monday is to revolve around those crucial first five days between the soldiers' capture and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's speech to the Knesset in which he announced the war's objectives. What we still don't know is why the plans changed. Why did a six-day operation turn into a 34-day campaign? Eizenkot said that things went wrong. What went wrong and who is to blame is what we are still waiting to hear.
At that point, Eizenkot's staff asked the journalists to leave the auditorium, claiming that their presence hadn't been authorized by the chief of General Staff. It's hard to believe that Eizenkot hadn't realized there were reporters in the audience, since as a former military secretary to two prime ministers, he has enough experience with the media. And even if there were no journalists present, he surely didn't expect that his remarks would go unreported. Eizenkot, who as chief of operations in the General Staff during the war, is also a potential target for the commission, quite likely deliberately timed his words. If his testimony before the commission is ever published in its entirety, it will make for compelling reading. He is the man to say most authoritatively exactly which operations the IDF had prepared, what was presented to the cabinet by then chief of General Staff Dan Halutz and what was authorized. And what not.
Eizenkot's speech fits in with the old-new image of the IDF, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is trying to project. He wants a results-oriented army which does not seem as though it is cozying up to the government of the day nor involved in flashy PR.
That's why Ashkenazi didn't give the customary Independence Day interviews and isn't eager to send his troops in for a big sweep of the Gaza Strip at this point. Such an operation would severely disrupt the new "back to basics" training plan and probably won't succeed in eradicating the Kassam threat entirely. Ashkenazi and Eizenkot realize that the last thing the IDF needs now is another operation that will be less than a full success. That's why they're owning up now to the fact that releasing Regev and Goldwasser by force of arms was never a realistic goal and sending a message that it's time the government began owning up to its responsibilities.