Outgoing IDF chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot on Sunday defended the military against recent criticism of insufficient action against Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, saying the army’s primary goal in recent years has been thwarting Iran’s efforts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. Tehran is seeking to establish a force of 100,000 fighters in Syria, he said, and the IDF is preventing it from doing so.
Eisenkot, who is due to end his four-year tenure as army chief next month, acknowledged that the Israel Defense Forces had failed to give Israelis, especially those living near Gaza, a “feeling of security,” but indicated this was in part due to the fact that the civilian population is unaware of the majority of the military’s activities.
Comparing the threats to Israel to an iceberg, Eisenkot said that the visible dangers — terror attacks in the West Bank, rockets from Gaza — are the smallest, while “what isn’t seen, and which takes much of the army’s effort, is the multi-dimensional threat of Iran.”
While the army chief warned of ongoing threats to Israel, his speech was overall optimistic about the Jewish state’s security situation.
“I think we can look back proudly at how the country has grown and thrived in the past year despite the mighty challenges Israel has faced, from Iran, from Syria, from Lebanon, from the West Bank, from Gaza, from international terror groups,” Eisenkot said.
“Israel has great deterrence toward our surroundings, in terms of the way we radiate power and in how we are seen by our enemies. Israel has intelligence superiority, aerial superiority, naval superiority, cybernetic superiority. [The country’s enemies] experience this,” he said.
Without elaborating, Eisenkot also added that Israel played a key role in the fight against the Islamic State terror group.
“The Israeli contribution to the defeat of IS is much greater than what the media and the public eye see. I can say this today. I didn’t think it was right to say that in 2015, 2016 or 2017,” he said.
"The IDF commander also briefly discussed the White House’s recent decision to pull its troops from Syria — which analysts fear will allow Iran to more easily spread weapons and fighters throughout the Middle East — saying it was a “significant event,” but not an issue whose importance should be exaggerated.
Last week, US President Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing the approximately 2,000 US troops currently stationed in northeastern Syria. The soldiers had been specifically deployed there to fight the Islamic State terror group, but had also helped block the establishment of an Iranian-controlled land corridor from the Islamic Republic through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.
“The American decision to withdraw troops from Syria is a significant event, but there’s no need to overstate it. We’ve been dealing alone with this front for decades,” Eisenkot said.
These were the Israeli general’s first public comments about the American withdrawal decision.
“This was an American decision. The IDF has been working independently this whole time, including during the period of American and Russian presence,” Eisenkot said.
The main concern of the Israeli army over the past four years has been Iran and specifically its efforts to entrench militarily in Syria, where the Islamic Republic has been assisting the country’s dictator Bashar Assad since nearly the start of its civil war in 2011, the army chief said.
Israel has long warned of Iranian efforts to establish a permanent military presence along the Golan border.
According to Eisenkot, this plan was led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. The goal was to create a second front from which Iran could threaten the Jewish state, the first being Lebanon, where Iran’s proxy and client Hezbollah has amassed a huge arsenal of over 100,000 rockets and missiles.
“The Iranian vision for Syria for the day after [the war]… was to build a force of 100,000 ground troops. There are already 20,000 fighters from Hezbollah, Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and thousands of advisers from Iran. The desire is to build a combined ground, aerial, naval and intelligence capability, really to construct a line of military positions along the Golan [border],” Eisenkot said.
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