Ashkenazi says IDF is prepared for Gaza op

Says army is "in a better place" since 2nd Lebanon War; Barak: operation is last option.

ashkenazi salutes 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
ashkenazi salutes 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The IDF is prepared for a ground op in Gaza, but a decision on the matter depends on the political echelon, Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said in an interview with Army Radio Wednesday. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel "will eventually carry out a large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip, but we are not in a hurry to do so and will only reach that [course of action] when all other options have been exhausted." Barak spoke while visiting IDF forces stationed near the Gaza Strip. Ashkenazi said the IDF is "prepared for the possibility of an operation, if it becomes necessary, [but] until then it is incumbent upon us to exhaust all of the other methods and act day and night in order to provide security." "The matter of entering Gaza, operating there and leaving is more complex than just a response to a Kassam rocket. There is a war going on [in Gaza], and [large] magnitudes of forces are operating there night in and night out," he said. The chief of staff also commented on the Second Lebanon War, saying that the faults lay with the army's higher command rather than in the way forces operated on the ground. But, he said, "I don't use terms such as 'win' or 'loss'. I use the term 'missed opportunity'. I think there are things that we did well; that even Hizbullah admits it was surprised by." "Nowadays the army is in another, better place," Ashkenazi added. "We must return to the ethos of an offensive IDF, which takes responsibility. I would like to instill in every soldier and commander the sense that in a time of war the fate of the battle lies with him." At one point in the televised interview, Ashkenazi listened to a recording of abducted reservist Ehud Goldwasser made several hours before the cross-border raid in which Hizbullah kidnapped him and Eldad Regev. "It is heart-wrenching," he said. "Nothing could have hinted at what would eventually happen during that patrol. According to Ashkenazi, a lot was being done in order to bring Goldwasser, Regev, and Gilad Schalit home. Efforts were not being spared in intelligence activity, and many meetings with the families were taking place on a regular basis, he said. The chief of staff was critical of the government's recent decision to release over 400 Palestinian prisoners. "I think it is wrong that prisoners are released and it is not linked to Gilad Schalit in Gaza," he said, referring to public statements he recently made in which he stated his opposition to the release. "If it is linked to his release, or can [at least] further, accelerate or kick-start the process, then [a release of Palestinian prisoners] should be viewed in another light, and I will not oppose it in such a case." Ashkenazi also commented on the role of reservists in the Second Lebanon War and in general, promising that the army would "make every effort in order to lighten their load." He expressed worry over statistics showing a marked rise in draft evasion amongst Israeli youth. "I cannot say that inductees don't want to go to combat units, but [I can confirm] that soldiers who are capable of serving in a meaningful capacity find a way to evade such service." Turning to the IDF's commanders, Ashkenazi said, "I want to tell you that I appreciate all that you are doing. If the Israeli people were exposed to your leadership, your personalities, and the complexities imposed by [your] duties, it would be highly appreciative of the things you are doing."