Date: 19/01/2009, 4:05 PM     Author: IDF (Zahal) Website

Sunday (Jan.18), the IDF (Zahal) held an international press briefing in Tel Aviv in order to discuss the military achievements of Operation Cast Lead and to address other issues of interest related to the operation.

In regards to the operation and its timeliness, a senior IDF (Zahal) officer remarked, “After eight years of restraint, Israel has decided to act against the terror attacks coming from the Gaza Strip. Israeli restraint was misinterpreted as weakness by Hamas and members of the vertical axis of extremism led by Iran.” The senior officer added that Israel had given a mutual agreement to preserve peace its final chance when it agreed to the Egyptian brokered Period of Calm agreement in June 2008, whose terms were repeatedly transgressed by Hamas. After Hamas had made it clear that this mutual agreement was not taken seriously by the terror organization, but rather used as a time to further attacks against Israeli civilians, Israel took military action. “It was at this time that we set the goal for Operation Cast Lead – the goal was to improve the security situation in Southern Israel, and to facilitate peaceful living for the Israeli civilians living there. We asked ourselves how to accomplish this, and the answer was to hit Hamas hard – to strike the tunnels, the terrorists themselves, and all of their assets – in order to prevent them from committing war crimes by firing rockets that target our civilian population,” explained the senior IDF (Zahal) officer during Sunday’s press briefing.

Additionally, the senior officer briefed the press on the IDF (Zahal)’s military accomplishments during Operation Cast Lead thus far. He stated that the exact numbers are difficult to define, as Hamas intentionally conceals its losses in order to preserve its image of strength among Palestinian population, but he was certain that over the course of the operation, the IDF (Zahal) struck hundreds of terrorists, destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels, weaponry manufacturing sites, and storage facilities. He also noted that this was accomplished by means of a very well coordinated aerial and ground campaign.

With regards to the ceasefire, the senior officer explained that this was another phase of Operation Cast Lead and that the ceasefire has not put an end to Israel’s operation of self-defense. “The operation has not ended. Israel has accepted the proposition brought forth by Egypt and agreed to hold its fire and to give a ceasefire a legitimate chance to bring peace and to end both the attacks on Israel and the operation in the Gaza Strip. Right now, we are closely monitoring the situation and waiting to see whether or not the terrorists will ultimately accept these terms. Since the ceasefire, seven rockets have been fired – I want to make the suggestion that Hamas does not make the mistake of miscalculating our commitment to the defense of the State of Israel once again. We want to give this ceasefire a chance, but if Hamas chooses not to, we will utilize all of our means. Our forces are inside, outside, and above the Gaza Strip, ready to take action. We are abiding by this agreement, but with vigilant preparedness.”

The senior officer commended the IDF (Zahal) for its impeccable effort aimed at avoiding civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip, citing several examples, including the fact that the IDF (Zahal) made over 300,000 phone calls to residents in Gaza, urging them to leave before the IDF (Zahal) struck nearby Hamas targets. “This was not a war against the Palestinians,” he explains, “It was an operation of self-defense against Hamas and related terror organizations. Unfortunately, this task was made extremely difficult by Hamas, as they made the choice to use civilians as human shields. Thus, protecting civilians was almost impossible, but I am proud of the way that we did it – our own forces took safety risks in order to protect Palestinians.” The senior IDF (Zahal) officer made note of the fact that in using Palestinian civilians as human shields, Hamas is therefore responsible for the loss of civilian lives in the Gaza Strip. In addition, he cited that Israel had implemented daily ceasefires in order to facilitate the transferring of humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians. He made note of the fact that while some of the aid was supplied to civilians, a portion of the aid was stolen by Hamas operatives, who failed to distribute it to those that needed it. Hamas operatives also prevented several wounded Palestinians from receiving medical care at crossings, where the IDF (Zahal) was stationed to provide treatment. Finally, Hamas took advantage of the daily ceasefires in order to increase the number of daily attacks that it perpetrated against Israeli civilians.

“I want you all to remember one thing,” said the senior officer during the briefing, “Israel is confronting Hamas – terrorists in Gaza – but the footprints of Iran are all over, not just in relation to Hamas, but in other extremist groups as well. The financing of terror attacks, right down to the supplying of weapons themselves, are carried out by Iran. The source is Iran. This type of support fits quite well with the Iranian aspirations of exporting an extremist revolution globally. This is the same method used by Iran with Hezbollah in 2006.”

“We will do our part in terms of upholding this ceasefire,” explained Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, Head of the IDF (Zahal) Strategic Planning Branch, “but if Hamas does not cooperate, we are ready and willing to continue this operation.”