IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said on Sunday that the American withdrawal from Syria is “significant” for Israel, but will not affect the IDF’s ability to act against Iran and Hezbollah.
“The American decision to withdraw troops is significant, but it should not be exaggerated,” Eisenkot said at a conference honoring former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on Sunday.“For decades, we have dealt with this front alone. That’s also how it has been over the past four years, during the American and Russian presence [in Syria]. We have been acting in support of Israel’s security interests,” he said, adding that the Americans make the decision when the relationship between the armies is at its peak.Last week, US President Donald Trump announced that Washington would withdraw some 2,000 American troops from Syria, alarming US allies including Israel, with one unnamed senior diplomatic official quoted by Channel 10 as saying that “Trump threw us under the wheels of the semi-truck of the Russian army – the one that transfers weapons to Syria and Hezbollah.”Referring to the friction between Israel and Russia in Syria, Eisenkot said that their deployment to the war-torn country in 2015 “created a new situation that required us to build a mechanism to prevent friction.”“It required us to enter a dialogue to create a system to prevent friction, and it has been a factor affecting how we have used force,” he said, adding: “Through the entire period, I, as chief of staff, have felt that there has been an understanding regarding Israel’s security needs.”The chief of staff, who will finish his term in the coming weeks, also addressed the cross-border Hezbollah attack tunnels that have infiltrated into northern Israel. According to him, Israel was able to foil the Shi’ite terrorist group’s plans “without leading to a war.”Israel announced the beginning of Operation Northern Shield in early December to identify and destroy tunnels built by the terrorist group and began blowing up those discovered on Thursday. “In recent years, there’s been an effort against Hezbollah, who worked to build a very broad capability with three principles – an attack plan on the Galilee, producing precision weapons with a steep trajectory, and an effort to build a second front against Israel from Syria,” Eisenkot said.“Hezbollah had the will to carry out an attack to occupy communities. They positioned forces where fewer tunnels were built. It isn’t hard to imagine what would have happened had there been a future security deterioration. The incident would have begun with hundreds of Hezbollah fighters infiltrating into Israel and carrying out an attack,” he said.According to Eisenkot, “most” of the tunnels that crossed from southern Lebanon have been located and the operation “will be completed in the near future.”Nevertheless, he said, “the Israeli army has been on a high state of readiness over the past month for any serious development around this.”Eisenkot also touched on the recent wave of terrorist attacks in the West Bank in recent weeks, which have claimed the lives of three Israelis.“There’s the thinking here that if we only apply more force against terrorism, it will end. That’s a mistaken approach. I frequently hear that deterrence has collapsed, but such a concept is elusive. Deterrence doesn’t drop and isn’t built in a day,” he said, adding that Israel has thwarted countless attacks and saved hundreds of lives.“Our enemies understand our intelligence and air superiority. They see that we are acting against them, against Iran and Hezbollah and against Gaza as well. The way in which our enemies understand our capabilities provides us with the capacity to act and to cause our enemies not to act,” he said.
Trump defends decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria, December 23, 2018 (Reuters)