(Translated from Hebrew)
Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, Head of the IDF Operations Directorate: Last night, the IDF carried out operations against terrorist targets in Qana. Since the start of hostilities, Qana has served as a cover and as a location from which 150 missiles and missiles have been fired into Israeli territory in approximately 30 barrages, some of which were fired towards Haifa and the north. Since the start of hostilities, Israeli communities have faced unprecedented attacks. About 150 population centers have been attacked by armaments unprecedented in Israel’s history.
From the first day of fighting, we told the residents of southern Lebanon that they had to move away from those involved in terror and from launch sites, for their own security. We dispersed fliers, we announced it in the media. We moved progressively. And regretfully, last night civilians were killed, who no one had any intention of harming.
Qana is the center of Hizbullah’s regional headquarters. It has stockpiles of weapons, and there have been repeated launches from the area over the entire period.
The IDF is continuing its operations according to the objectives set at the outset, including operations to root out firing of missiles into Israel, even after the tragic incident, the circumstances of which are still being investigated.
We call upon the residents of southern Lebanon to move away from the terrorists, to move away from where missiles are launched, for the sake of their own security. This is not done to drive civilians away in order to apply pressure, but because we understand the strategy of Hizbullah. This is an organization that has effectively taken over sections of Lebanon and operates with the capabilities of a state, with long-range missiles; it acts in a way not possible without the support of a state, in this case Iran, and not possible without Syria’s capability, which has been used against us in the past two and a half weeks.
All our operations in rural regions have been designed to defend Israeli citizens. Despite the unfortunate incident, we plan to continue the same course of action, that is, to hit the terrorists, while making all possible efforts to prevent civilian casualties. That is how we have operated and how we plan to continue to operate.
Brig. Gen. Amir Eshel, Air Force Chief of Staff: Operations are very complicated. We are talking about hundreds of launchers and a great number of missiles dispersed throughout Lebanon, with everything from short range to long range. We are trying to hit the elements of these capabilities wherever possible, to create an effect that ultimately results in a reduction in the number of launches and their accuracy. This is what we are concentrating on. The attack on the chain of the missile-launching activities is focused on the launchers, on the people operating them, on the logistics rear of the launchers, and on the command centers that operate these launcher forces. Here we are talking about highly organized military organizations that operate different types of weapons; in fact, I would say, almost a regular army. Additional elements that we are dealing with are disruption of their operational capacity by hitting the routes they use, and by firing into the launch zones to prevent or disrupt their smooth operation as much as possible.
The operations at Qana last night and this morning were in the context of this activity. Firstly, in respect of Qana, the village itself, in and around the village, since the start of hostilities, since the start of combat in Lebanon, approximately 150 missiles have been fired from its immediate environs, in a large number of barrages. There are individual launches as well as barrages, and missiles have been fired from that area to several sites in Israel. In the environs of this village, we have found extensive launch-related activity, including inside the village itself, initiated by the forces in charge of these activities, because such prolonged activity requires a command center to issue instructions, to define what is to be done, when it is to be done, and when to stop, and the logistics sites to serve the activity. There are launchers in this village. There are launches from this village almost every day – almost every day throughout locations in Israel.
Last night’s operations were the continuation of activities that began earlier. Before, and last night, we attacked several targets in the village. They are all targets that have been identified and carefully screened, that have been looked at to see what they are, what their purpose is, what their relationship is in the chain of terror, and our intention in hitting these targets is to eliminate that chain. That is what we were addressing last night. In the Qana vicinity there were several raids overnight. We know of one raid in the area between 12:00 midnight and 01:00 AM; another at daybreak about one and a half to two hours later, and another around 07:30 AM. Reports from Lebanon about the building that was hit, the building where there were civilians not involved in the fighting, were received at around 08:00-08:30 AM more or less, after the end of the attack that began at 07:30 AM. The raid at 07:30 AM was about 500 meters from this site, from this building, and three targets were hit with precision bombs. I will tell you in a moment how we know what we did. But all these targets we accurately hit; and all the bombs, including those fired around 07:30 AM, hit their targets. We know this from evidence from the aircraft, from the crews; everything is photographed; also from the reconnaissance sortie which did. When we understood that there was a problem, we sent out a reconnaissance sortie during the day to photograph and try and understand what happened there. The raid in the area at 02:00 AM attacked two targets about 400 meters way from this location, and both targets were destroyed.
The raid between midnight and 01:00 AM attacked the vicinity of the building which was hit. Precise hits of the target were noted. So this poses a question, for which we don’t have an answer: What happened between midnight/ 01:00 AM and approximately 08:00 AM? There is a time gap which, at the moment, we are unable to explain. The IAF attacked this building, as far as we understand, as an identified target. In a moment, I will tell you in what context. The IAF attacked this building between 12:00 midnight and 01:00 AM. This is the level of resolution that we achieved at this time. One of the major problems was to try and understand from the pictures of the foreign media television in Lebanon which building had been hit, and to try and link it to our raids or rule out the possibility. We got to this relatively very late. It is a very complex process of taking a television picture and comparing it to an aerial photograph and trying to understand the connection. As far as we understand, this building was attacked between 12:00 midnight and 01:00 AM, and it took about seven hours before it was severely damaged.
As I said, the targets were carefully selected, and this village had extensive activity in it. Some of the targets attacked during the night are related to storage locations. Some are related to the command center in the vicinity of this building. Not far from the building attacked yesterday, the building where people not involved in the fighting were killed, another building very close by was attacked two days ago. You can see it in the aerial photographs. In the vicinity of the same targets that we attacked 500 meters from there; also, several days ago other targets were attacked that were linked to command functions in this village.
There is a continuous effort, based on intelligence information, to try to exert pressure in order to reach the terrorists themselves. I am sure that you understand that we are executing the process cautiously. We cannot say with absolute certainty who is in the building but we know how to substantially narrow the uncertainty with respect to the targets that according to everything we know, at the intelligence level (intelligence received from the IDF Directorate of Military Intelligence along with the IDF Intelligence Squadron).
We focus on targets that are distinctly terrorist targets, as we understand them. We deeply regret the civilian casualties. I am convinced that had we known there are uninvolved persons, certainly this number, we would not have attacked. I think that terrorism cynically uses uninvolved persons as human shields; it lives among them and attacks our citizens from among them; lives in a civilian environment and attacks civilians from within a civilian environment. And we are the antithesis to this, we defend civilians and try to avoid hitting uninvolved persons, civilians. Our knowledge is not perfect, but those who live together with terror, by agreement or by coercion, that is the source of the evil. And our way to defend Israeli citizens is to ultimately hit this chain of terror and to eliminate it.
We have had several successes; we have not yet reached the point we have striven for. We have not yet reduced the level of terror to smaller volumes. We have not yet reduced their accuracy. However, I suggest that we look at certain areas in which we have had greater success. It is not as if Hizbullah does not have the ability to hit Haifa; it has not succeeded in doing so for several days. This is the outcome of a continuous effort that is not only focused in this specific area, but all along the zone. However, the ability to handle the entire zone homogeneously, to reach the terrorists at one specific point in time is limited, and therefore there are places where we have had greater success. You saw the launcher that fired the 302 millimeter missile at Afula manufactured in Syria. It was destroyed less than ten minutes after it fired; it will not fire again.
We are learning more, we are succeeding more, but the proximity of uninvolved civilians to Hizbullah terror is very problematic; our way to try and separate between the two is to deliver messages by dropping leaflets (the population of Qana received these leaflets) and through the mass media instructing the population to leave, explaining the presence of terror there, and that our actions are in self-defense and to strike at the terrorism, but that we do not want to harm the population, and that they should leave. Regretfully, in this case, we apparently hit uninvolved persons; the incident is still unclear.
The gap between the time of the attack and the time at which the building collapsed is still not clear to us. It can perhaps be attributed to other munitions present in the building that perhaps ultimately resulted in its collapse; we simply do not know at this time and we need to continue to investigate the matter. The bottom line is that the effort is continuing, and bearing fruit, though we would like the pace to be faster; it is difficult but possible, and we must continue the effort despite the regretful incident. I suggest that we investigate it thoroughly, understand it, but simultaneously continue the effort to thwart the terror. There is no other way to prevent the harming of Israeli citizens.
Questions from the press
Q: Does the IDF take responsibility for the event in Qana or does it not, and how in your opinion does this incident affect the legitimacy for continuing the operation in Lebanon?
Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot: There is a gap we are unable to bridge because we are over 150 km, about 200 km, away. The gap is, as said, by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, between the air force assault, which, as we understand it, took place at 0100, or between 12 [midnight] and 0100, and the explosion which, according to the reports, took place in the early morning hours. The incident was investigated by the IDF, but it is inherently difficult to conduct a thorough investigation. The incident, and its painful outcome are not discouraging us from trying to stop or reduce the armaments being fired into Israeli territory. Even after this event, over 100 missiles were fired into Israeli territory. We are continuing with our pattern of operation. Again we call upon Lebanese civilians to evacuate the vicinity of terrorist elements in Lebanon in order to reduce civilian harm as much as possible.
Q: The head of Air Operations Division said there was also an assault at 7:30 in the morning; can you comment on that?
Brig. Gen. Amir Eshel: I’ll repeat what I said, and if I was misunderstood I’ll try to make it clearer. At 7:30 in the morning there was an assault on three buildings, 460 meters from the building in question. In that assault, four bombs were dropped, each of them documented by the aircrafts’ fire-control cameras through their adjustment devices. They all hit their targets according to these devices, and we also put out a reconnaissance sortie that filmed the village area hours later, around noon. In this reconnaissance sortie, all three buildings hit 460 meters from that house, at 7:30 in the morning, had been hit. So we have verification of the hits on the houses and of the bombs dropped on them, all of which reached their targets.
Q: Could you please specify what brought down this specific building that was assaulted with the final results that we saw?
Brig. Gen. Amir Eshel: About this specific target, I said that there was a set of targets in this village and at least six targets were assaulted overnight, from storage locations to command centers, to suspicious sites where the launchers were headed. So I say that this building was one of at least six that were under observation, each with its own set of characteristics.
Q: What effect will this event have on continued ground operation inside Lebanon?
Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot: The goals were to significantly impair the Hizbullah organization. As far as I know and understand, that goal was accomplished. The Hizbullah organization was hurt quite significantly both strategically and operationally. Many of its functions were impaired, despite the fact that the organization continues to carry out strikes to the extent of 100 or 150 missiles per day, and in certain parts, our forces are continuing combat operations.
Our second goal was to spur on the international community and to get the Lebanese Government to accept [Resolution] 1559 and to deploy the Lebanese army along the border, and of course to create conditions for returning the kidnapped soldiers, in order to create better security conditions. In the short term, the realities are complex, problematic and difficult for the citizens of Israel. In the long term, we are facing a bitter truth on the other side of our fence; an Iranian capability at a range of kilometers and dozens of kilometers, threatening the population centers and main cities in Israel. And I suggest we all look properly at this complex reality and understand that it is not a matter of days, and that it is our intention that this operation end with the Lebanese government taking responsibility for its southern border and effecting a change in the security reality in the long term.
In the short term, it would be very tempting to return to the reality of an incident once every two or three months. In recent years there’s been a lot of talk about the Iranian desire to gain a nuclear capability. I suggest we all also think about what would happen if the Israel went to war against Hizbullah when its patron has an unconventional capability. We see the irresponsibility of this organization in its mode of operation in recent years; after Israel decided to leave Lebanon, Hizbullah continued to operate against us once every few months, especially against the IDF, but also by shooting at civilian areas. And I suggest we not be short-sighted, and instead see this move as a deeply significant and strategic move.
We have been rained on over these three weeks. This organization, Hizbullah, has suffered a deluge. The party seeking a ceasefire in the past week has not been Israel but Hizbullah and its patrons. So for the sake of Israel’s long-term security interests, I think we need patience and I’m convinced that the IDF will continue to make every effort to reach its objectives and meet the Israeli public’s expectations. We are proceeding according to the basic principle of a security approach that is trying to reduce the days of fighting as much as possible and to create optimal conditions for the political echelon to complete the move.
When we started out it was clearly understood that the intention was not to force the collapse of Hizbullah, but to hurt it, because this organization is deployed along the Lebanese border, the Israel-Lebanon border, up to the Israel-Syria border, so the intention was not to eliminate Hizbullah to the very last person. To the best of our understanding this organization has suffered 200-300 fatalities, hundreds of wounded, its leaders persued, its strategic infrastructure damaged. I don’t want to give this any time constraints. We have hurt this organization; I think that the international community has been set in motion, and now the question is whether the conditions are satisfactory. This is not just a question for the IDF but also one for Israel’s political echelon.
Q: I’d like to understand. You attack the building around 30 minutes after midnight or 0100. That means, what kind of scenario could there be, such that until 7 o’clock in the morning after an assault 30 minutes after midnight at night no civilians are hurt, and then at seven in the morning there are hurt civilians. I mean, if there were civilians they would have already have been hit at 30 minutes after midnight. What’s your assessment? After all, you have some kind of assessment, some bit of information? What happened there exactly?
Brig. Gen. Amir Eshel: I don’t know what to tell you right now or what could explain this gap of several hours: a strike and then eight hours or seven hours later an explosion in which a building is severely damaged and civilians are hurt. It could be that things of one nature or another were stored in the building, that eventually caused some sort of explosion, that we did not manage to hit or blow up in the assault, and maybe they remained afterwards. But I’m saying this very carefully because right now I don’t have the slightest idea to explain the gap. We need to check it out.
Q: Reserve soldiers have been called up. To what end? To clean out southern Lebanon up to the Litani River? To push the terrorists further back? what is the goal that hasn’t been accomplished so far that you are planning to achieve in the future?
Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot: Our goal was to significantly hurt the Hizbullah organization. In recent days we’ve been intensifying our actions against the Hizbullah, also on the ground. There are a number of forces in action at the moment who will be reinforced. At the same time, we have decided that ground operations will be limited in time and space. We do not intend to occupy parts of Lebanon, or even of southern Lebanon. Our objective over there is to hit terrorists near Israeli towns and settlements. We are conducting operations far out of sight, consisting of special operations that are achieving their goal. And, two days ago, we had the opportunity to witness such an operation in southern Lebanon that was very successful and improved our ability to hurt the terrorist organization.
We will continue our efforts to destroy Hizbullah posts near the border and any other terrorist presence there. The operation is progressing and this pattern of activity will be maintained. We do not intend to engage in activities aimed at occupying Lebanon. The purpose of the recruitment of reserve forces is only one: to improve or increase our flexibility in Judea and Samaria, Gaza and Lebanon. The number of reserve army personnel recruited is relatively low, and we have the option of recruiting greater numbers.
Q: I would like to ask Brig. Gen. Eshel: When was the last attack, the last launch of missiles from the Qana village to Israel? And, following this morning’s events, are there any plans to review the tasks of the Air Force and its attacks inside Lebanon?
Brig. Gen. Amir Eshel: We are continuing our operations, as we did yesterday, and the day before. I said this is an ongoing effort that has a very clear purpose and objective. In some areas we achieve more, in others we achieve less. There were launches from Qana on an almost daily basis. If I’m not mistaken, the last one was one or two days ago. We can see a cycle here. From Qana itself, from its immediate surroundings; as you have seen here, they have launched about 150 missiles during this conflict, and the [missile] launches have been on a daily basis.