IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot is not the sort who seeks publicity.
For nearly a year, since he was appointed as top commander of the IDF last February, he has generally refrained from making statements outside closed forums; his public appearances have consisted exclusively of state ceremonies and addresses that are considered mandatory for every IDF chief. The speech Eisenkot gave Monday at the Institute for National Security Studies’ 9th annual international conference was, therefore, a deviation from protocol.
As was expected, Eisenkot talked about the ramifications for Israel of Saturday’s implementation of the Iran deal – also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. He warned that now that it has been unshackled from economic sanctions, the Islamic Republic would be better positioned to support proxies throughout the region. Hezbollah is the most severe threat to Israel, Hamas also might receive more financial and logistical support, and Israel’s Arabs would continue to be a target audience for Iranian propaganda.
Eisenkot’s comments regarding the wave of terrorism that began in October were particularly eye-opening.
Though he has made clear in briefings with reporters and in closed forums his policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians on the West Bank and Jerusalem, Eisenkot for the first time articulated his views publicly.
In the wake of the fatal stabbing of Dafna Meir in Otniel and the stabbing attack in Tekoa that left the pregnant Michal Froman, 30, moderately wounded, the IDF ordered that no Palestinian workers would be allowed into all Jewish settlements for a day, being allowed access only to industrial parks. In the Gush Etzion area, Palestinians were banned from industrial parks, as well.
However, the IDF made it clear that the restrictions on the movement of Palestinians would be reassessed on a daily basis and did not constitute collective punishment.
This is in keeping with Eisenkot’s belief that despite the wave of terrorism, Palestinians should continue to be allowed to work in settlements and Israel proper.
Eisenkot said it would be a “mistake” to barricade Palestinians off from working in Israel as doing so would lead to more violence. The 120,000 Palestinians who work in Israel and the settlements, providing for more than half a million Palestinians, should continue to be allowed to work, Eisenkot said, because it restrains further violence.
Eisenkot’s working assumption is that most Palestinians are not involved in terrorist activities and are interested in living their lives in peace. It has since been verified that the terrorist who killed Meir in Otniel did not enter the settlement with a work permit, but rather infiltrated despite security precautions.
Interestingly, Eisenkot’s message was strikingly similar to the one conveyed by Hadassah Froman, the motherin- law of Michal who was attacked Monday in Tekoa and the wife of renowned peace advocate Rabbi Menachem Froman.
In an interview with Army Radio, Hadassah Froman said Israel needed to make a greater effort to distinguish between those Palestinians who support terrorism and those who want to live in peace.
If Israel were to reach out to those Palestinians who want to live in peace, she said, it would help them and also “help our security.”
The situation in Judea and Samaria is extremely volatile.
Both Eisenkot and Froman recognize that the relative stability that has so far been maintained is extremely fragile and can easily deteriorate.
For the time being, we are witnessing an “intifada of individuals” in which “lone wolves” are perpetrating murderous terrorist attacks like the one that took the life of Dafna Meir. Still, so far, there have not been mass demonstrations or waves of suicide bombings like the ones witnessed during the second intifada.
Populists might call to curtail the movement of Palestinian workers – even those screened by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Eisenkot is wisely cautioning against such gut reactions.
We are all shocked and sickened by the murder of Meir and the other victims of recent Palestinian attacks. But adopting measures that collectively punish all Palestinians is liable to be counterproductive and dangerous.
The chief of staff’s message, which is loud and clear, should be heeded.