Press Briefing by Nachman Shai,
Director-General Ministry of Science, Culture and Sports,
Coordinator of Information Policy; and
Major General Giora Eiland,
Head of the IDF Operation Branch

Jerusalem, October 13, 2000

Nachman Shai: In summary some of the recent developments: Israel publicly calls upon the Palestinian Authority to return immediately to jail all the Hamas prisoners that have been released recently in violation of all the Israeli-Palestinian agreements. This is a very severe phenomenon, a very severe step taken by the Palestinians, which is really inviting terrorist attacks in Israel. The fact that that hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean that it will not happen now and in the very near future. We understand that the motive for this was that Yasser Arafat wanted to let those terrorists have a chance to try and initiate again terrorist activities against Israel. We regard this as a very severe development, and we believe it’s the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility to make sure that those people will be back in jail as soon as possible.

That by itself means that we are taking all measures in order to make sure, as far as we can, that internally, the Israeli police and security service and the general public are taking all efforts that there will be no attacks like those we’ve had in the past.

There are ongoing attempts to renew the diplomatic dialogue between Israel and Palestinians – Robin Cook just met a few minutes ago with the Prime Minister. For the time being, nothing has been set, but as I said before, there are still attempts to set up a time, place and of course an agenda for a summit between Israel and the Palestinians, and of course the United States and maybe other participants as well.

On the military front, there were some incidents last night and early this morning. There were some Israeli retaliation attacks, into which General Eiland will go into detail and describe to you what happened where, what are the circumstances that we hit back, and what is the present Israeli policy. On one occasion last night, the Palestinians set fire to a synagogue in Jericho. Later on Israeli helicopters hit one target in Jericho.

Following the lynch of the Israeli yesterday in Ramallah, we still have no idea whether there were three people there or two – we are still checking the situation. The information which is coming from there doesn’t make it clear to us whether there were two or three Israelis. For the time being we know of two.

From a review of yesterday’s events in Ramallah, it’s obvious to us that the Palestinian policemen who stopped the two reservists at the checkpoint could simply have turned them back to Israel, and by that avoid a prevent the whole tragedy. But that, as you know, did not happen, and the rest is known. As we said before, we believe that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for what happened at the lynch of the two Israelis.

There is a closure on Ramallah, no entry and no exit. The basic idea behind that is to prevent any clashes between Israelis and Arabs, and whatever may happened in the place where the two soldiers were lynched.

Generally speaking, this "day of rage" at the Temple Mount was quiet so far. There were some disturbances last night and this morning in the north, in the south, but nothing that I can report to you about.

I would like now to give the floor to Major General Eiland, who is the Head of the IDF Operation Branch.

Maj.Gen. Eiland: I’ll say a few words about the Israeli response yesterday. I’ll try to make some corrections – some things that have been published are not exact. I’ll say a few words about the situation since the attack, and I’ll try to concentrate my short briefing in the consequences of the release of dozens of terrorists from the Palestinian jail, and what might happen after this release.

Our first response to the lynching was an attack that was made almost simultaneously yesterday afternoon. We attacked five objectives – two in Gaza and three in Ramallah. The targets were, first in Gaza, five boats that belonged to the Palestinian police or coast guard. The second objective in Gaza was a building that belongs to the Palestinian police and to the Tanzim – they share the same building; the first floor belongs to the Tanzim and we attacked that floor. Everyone who thinks about the cooperation between the organizations and the Tanzim, at least at this specific building, they get along together very well.

In Ramallah we attacked three objectives. The first and most important one was the police station where the murder occurred. We attacked the building itself with a few missiles. The second objective was another police station – we attacked the parking yard there and we destroyed some of the vehicles that belonged to the Palestinian security forces. The third objective was several antennas that are used for the Palestinian Radio. We attacked only the antennas themselves – we didn’t attack any building, and of course we didn’t attack any personnel.

Before the attack we gave a warning, three hours in advance, to all the Palestinian leaders, that we were going to do more or less what we actually did. A few minutes before the attack we shot warning fire near the objectives, to signal to anyone who didn’t get the message that they should leave the place before we attacked the objectives themselves. We meant not to cause casualties, especially not civilians, but we tried to avoid any casualties at all, including police or security forces. In that sense, the attack was successful.

The attack was conducted only by attack helicopters, using very accurate missiles that hit the targets themselves but don’t cause any damage or casualties to the neighborhood. We didn’t use any other kind of aircraft, and of course we didn’t use any other heavier bombs. We didn’t shoot with tanks and we didn’t change our forces to any new position as part of this attack.

This attack lasted more or less from 15:00 to 17:00, and we were going to see what will be the reactions on the other side. We tried to deliver a very clear message that this kind of attacks might continue if it is necessary. Unfortunately there was a need to add another attack.

Yesterday at 23:00 there was some action by Palestinians in the city of Jericho. They set fire to a very old Jewish synagogue there. This shows the way that the Palestinians treat Jewish holy places. It began in Nablus, in Joseph’s Tomb. We saw yesterday another example in Jericho. So we attacked another military position in Jericho, the academy for police officers. A few minutes before the attack there were hundreds of policemen in that big building. As we did before, we shot a warning fire nearby, we left them a few minutes to evacuate the place, and then we attacked the building itself. As far as know there were no casualties in that attack.

That was more or less the end of the day as far as Israel’s deliberate responses are concerned.

What is the situation since then? We have learned in the past 12 days that sometimes it is too early to estimate the situation and try to give any assessment about what is expected in the next days or even hours. So far, in the Gaza Strip it was relatively quiet. There were very very few shooting incidents, much fewer than in the previous days. But in the West Bank there was no significant change between last night and the nights before. In one place, in Hebron, some of the incidents were even heavier. From 19:00 or 20:00 in the evening until 3:00 in the morning there were repeated shootings between Palestinians and Israelis. This is one of the most sensitive places because there is a small Jewish community that lives in Hebron, and this fire is very dangerous and endangers not only soldiers but civilians too.

The third point that I want to make is with regard to the problem of the total release of Palestinian terrorists from jail. As far as we know, dozens – maybe 30, 40, 50, we don’t have exact numbers – of terrorists have been released. But we are speaking about the most dangerous ones – people who were directly involved in some of the biggest terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in the past few years, including places in the center of Tel-Aviv, in Dizengoff, places like Beit Lid which is a major junction in the center of the country, and some other incidents, in which dozens or even more Israeli were killed.

This release, that for the time being we can’t be sure whether it is permanent or only temporary release, is accepted by these terrorists or the organizations that they belong to, which are the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, as a signal that they have a green light to do whatever they think that they should do. When we speak about this kind of hazard or this kind of terrorist attacks, we are not talking only about shooting incidents and not only throwing stones and not even throwing hand grenades into Israeli places or positions. We are speaking about something much more dramatic, like an attempt to blow up big buildings inside Israel, to blow up bus stations, and things similar to that.

We experienced a very similar situation four and a half years ago, in February and March 1996, when the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad had a feeling that they could do whatever they thought they should do, and the results were just as I told. We are concerned that something like this might happen in the future too.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority doesn’t take the necessary steps in order to prevent this kind of activity, and we are very much concerned that something like this can happen – not in the future, but actually can be made in a very short time. Of course it could change the whole situation. Unfortunately the other side is maybe not aware of the consequences of such actions or such freedom to act.

Q: You said that the Palestinians are not going to take the necessary measures. Does that mean that you will take necessary measures?

Maj.Gen. Eiland: No. When we speak about these terrorists, most of them were in Palestinian hands, so they were released to territory that is completely controlled by the Palestinians, whether it is in Gaza or any other place in the West Bank. We don’t intend deliberately to enter this area in order to attack them. No, we don’t intend to do it. Of course, if we have any kind of information that we can prevent this kind of activity, we will do our best. But in the situation that we are in and the involvement of populations that are so close to each other, if measures are not taken by those who know where the people are and what the relations that they have, then probably we will not have all the capability to stop this kind of activity before it happens. So the Palestinians have better capabilities. But, as I said, unfortunately it seems that they don’t intend to stop any of these actions.

Q: What do you think your opponents’ goals are?

Maj.Gen. Eiland: Speaking about goals, we are speaking about political goals, and this is something that I prefer not to speak about.

Q: Militarily what are your opponents’ goals?

Maj.Gen. Eiland: Militarily the goals of those who fight against us is of course first to cause us as much casualties as they can, to change our sense of security, and by doing so to make some kind of pressure that, according to their understanding, will lead maybe to better political results.

Q: How well is your opponent doing?

Maj.Gen. Eiland: So far they are not as successful as they thought they would be, at least as far as the number of Israeli casualties is concerned, if I can say it. But nothing is guaranteed for the future, and the fact there is a new dimension here by the entrance into the arena of all those terrorists can change dramatically even that situation. That’s exactly the reason why the other side prefers – although he knows the risks – to let these terrorists act, because in this way he can maybe achieve some military targets or military goals that so far he was not very successful to achieve.

Q: Is the policy now to punish with your superior fire power any attacks on Israelis or Israeli positions?

Maj.Gen. Eiland: No, we are not punishing. Actually we are trying to stop this violence by giving a clear signal and trying to transmit the message that in a certain level of violence we will do our job in order to stop it and to deter it in some way. At least partially, at least in the Gaza Strip – and I’m being very careful, at least so far – there is some success in our approach. Of course, we have to be very sensitive, because we are still in some kind of political process that we don’t want to be too powerful in the way that we demonstrate or use our forces. But this is not a punishment. This is a response to violence, and whenever the violence increases, like the incident in Jericho that I just showed, whenever and if we think that we have to change our retaliation, we will do it.

Q: (inaudible – about the terrorists released)

Maj.Gen. Eiland: I don’t want to be very specific, but I do know that the order to release the terrorists is complete, total. It has been given to those who keep to release all the terrorists. As I said, maybe some of them will be released only for a short time, and later on will be taken back into custody. So whenever we name someone, they apparently can say: ‘But here he is.’ This is a general policy, and I don’t want to go into names because I might be wrong at this specific moment.

Q: Who gave the orders for them to be released?

Maj.Gen. Eiland: I don’t know. I can see only the result. The result is that those who kept them in jail got an order to let them go free. What is the level that made this decision – this is something that I don’t know.

Q: Are you saying that the tactics that you used yesterday were a change from your previous tactics, that yesterday you took special pains to avoid casualties, either civilian or military, whereby in the earlier days you didn’t take that precaution?

Maj.Gen. Eiland: No, just the opposite. We tried to do whatever we can in order to avoid casualties in all the incidents before. The only change between yesterday afternoon and the previous days was that we deliberately attacked some of the targets that until yesterday we preferred not to attack deliberately. We only responded to direct fire shot at us. This was the only change. We still try to avoid casualties as much as we can.

But there is something that maybe you should know. The question of casualties in general and especially civilian casualties arise again and again. We have to remember that we are in a certain kind of conflict – what is considered as ‘low intensity’ conflict – that is happening among the people, that in many cases the people that make the violence are the people who come to us. We are speaking about a combination of civilians, civilians with weapons, and policemen and security forces – all of them together. So sometimes it is very hard to distinguish, not only where is the enemy, but who is the enemy. In these circumstances, casualties might happen when the ranges are so close and the confusion is so big, and the question when you should shoot and when you don’t have to shoot is something that is being repeated day after day, in every place. Sometimes it is very hard to avoid any kind of any mistake.

Just to give you one statistic: In the past ten years, when you see all the conflicts in the world, including Kosovo, Bosnia, whatever, besides casualties, besides civilian casualties, about 15 percent of the friendly forces that have been killed, were killed by friendly fire. Of course, no one deliberately wants to kill his own people. Why does something like this happen? Because the situation is complicated, and people are making mistakes in these kind of circumstances.

So there is no way to eliminate completely the possibility that civilians might be injured, especially if they participate by their own will in some violence activities – and it happens every day, including today.

Q: Does it seem to you that the level of casualties on the Palestinian side is helping them?

Maj.Gen. Eiland: I must admit that yes. There is another absurdity we can see. It seems that the side that has more casualties is apparently the right side. It is not necessarily so. Look at the last conflicts in Europe – not necessarily those who suffered more casualties were the good guys. Since the number of casualties play a big factor in this media campaign, of course the more casualties they have and the more civilian casualties they have, the most they can benefit by that. Because no one really cares about the details – how exactly it happened and why. It is absurd, because we want to reduce the number of their casualties, while they want the opposite.

Q: On the summit – what is Israel’s position at the moment?

Nachman Shai: We are still negotiating. Of course there is growing pressure to see some progress on that. There is a lot of concern about the Middle East crisis now in the Arab world and other countries as well – the United States, Europe – and everyone would like to see an end to the present crisis. So we do receive requests to proceed with these negotiations, but we will not go there until we know exactly what are the conditions, who is coming, and what will come out of it. Because otherwise there is no reason. The experience we have from the last meeting in Paris is so bad, we don’t want to repeat the same mistake.

Q: Does Israel have any conditions?

Nachman Shai: Of course we have some conditions, but I’m not free right now to go into details. For the time being, there is no summit.

Q: You mentioned about the demand that the Palestinians return the Hamas to the jails. Is that one of the conditions?

Nachman Shai: I don’t think so. This is a demand that is not in the same context, but it’s something that we would like to see happening. This is a very severe violation.

Q: Can you explain why it’s so difficult to determine whether two or three were killed in Ramallah?

Maj.Gen. Eiland: We know about two people because we have the bodies. All the solid information that we have speaks about two people, so that’s all that we know. During the incident, there were so many messages and phone calls from so many people – some of them claim that there was another person. We have no indication at all that there was another. As far as we checked so far, we don’t have any missing soldier.

Q: When you say so many people bringing so many messages, who are you talking about?

Maj.Gen. Eiland: Reporters, Palestinians, policemen, some civilians. The distances are so close, the communications and cellular phones make it so easy for so many people who either want to add information or otherwise, and you have to check everything. So far there is no solid evidence that there was any third soldier there.  

 Press Briefing by Nachman Shai and MajGen Eiland-13-Oct-2000
 Press Briefing by Nachman Shai and MajGen Eiland-13-Oct-2000
Outbreak of Violence in Jerusalem and the Territories – Sept/Oct 2000