Cast Lead shakes off image of 'plasma screen commanders'

Top officers fought alongside their troops in Gaza campaign.

IDF soldier gaza border 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
IDF soldier gaza border 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
While one of the pervasive images of the Second Lebanon War was that of commanders leading operations from inside Israel while watching the fighting on plasma screens, Operation Cast Lead will be remembered for the images of brigade commanders leading their forces from deep inside Gaza. Four regular-service brigade commanders fought inside Gaza throughout the two-week ground offensive in the northern Gaza Strip: Col. Herzi Levy from the Paratroopers' Brigade, Col. Avi Peled from the Golani Brigade, Col. Ilan Malka from the Givati Brigade and Col. Yigal Slovick from the 401st Armored Brigade. All of them had operated in the Gaza Strip in past operations. Malka commanded the last major IDF operation - Hot Winter - in 2008. Peled was commander of the Southern Gaza Brigade during the disengagement from Gaza, and at the time of the abduction of Gilad Schalit. Levy was the former commander of the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal). Peled received the most publicity out of the four after he was moderately wounded in a friendly fire incident at the beginning of the ground offensive. A tank shell was fired at the home Peled and some of his men were in, killing three soldiers and causing serious damage to Peled's eardrum. Despite the wounds, Peled returned to Gaza a day later leading his troops during the fighting until the end of the operation on Sunday morning. "You cannot direct the entire operation from plasma screens," Malka told reporters Monday during a briefing at an IDF base near Gaza. "You need to find the right combination, and if I can make a difference by being in the field then I'll be there." The brigade commanders' decision to direct their forces from within the Gaza Strip did not come as a surprise. Since the appointment of Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi as the chief of staff, the IDF has put an emphasis on commanders leading their forces into battle. It was, however, a sharp break from the Second Lebanon War when most of the brigade commanders stayed back in Israel, directing their troops from command centers within Israeli towns and according to visuals provided by unmanned aerial vehicles. During his briefing on Monday, Malka rejected accusations that the IDF used disproportionate force during the ground operation. If Hamas had wanted to protect families and their homes, it would not have booby-trapped them, he said. "I will not send 10 soldiers into a home that is suspected of being booby-trapped even though there are people there," he said. "Instead, we inserted tanks and used firepower to see that the home was not booby-trapped." Malka said the IDF was investigating the attack on the UNRWA compound but noted that there were several cases when Hamas gunmen opened fire at troops from within civilian and medical facilities. "We witnessed several cases when terrorists entered homes took out civilians and left with them so we wouldn't attack them," he said.