In a speech Tuesday morning, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott said that the IDF was managing the security situation in southern Israel and acting to prevent Hamas from allowing rocket attacks on Israeli towns.
“Gaza has become more of a complicated issue since Operation Protective Edge in 2014,” Eisenkott said at a forum in memory of former IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shachak. “On the one hand, not one soldier or civilian has been hurt in any activity emanating from Gaza since the war, and the towns in the Gaza border region are thriving. On the other hand, some 60 rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel since the war, 20 of them in the last month.”
Eisenkott spoke hours after the IDF hit another Hamas military installation in northern Gaza, Israel’s response to the firing of a rocket from Gaza onto an Israeli kibbutz on Monday night. The rocket landed in an open area, and caused no injury or damage. The Red Alert warning system was not sounded. In a statement, the IDF said that Israel held Hamas responsible for all attacks from Gaza.
Some of the rocket activity can be attributed to rival terror groups in Gaza, Eisenkott said. “Certain groups have an interest in heating up the situation and drawing us into a war,” and Hamas was not necessarily one of those groups. In any event, “we are on high alert, but we do not have to rush to action. Our objective is to deter Gaza terror groups from attacking Israel, but deterrence is not built in a day, and is not based on the opinion of the daily newspapers,” he said.
As far as Syria was concerned, Eisenkott said, “we are taking international steps, military and otherwise, to prevent Iran from settling itself in Syria. Such an event would be bad news for Israel, Syria and Europe. There are about 2,000 Iranian advisers in Syria now, along with some 10,000 Shiite terrorists and 8,000 Hezbollah terrorists working alongside the army of Bashar al-Assad.”
Eisenkott said that Iran spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually to help allies fighting elsewhere in the Middle East and this outlay appears to be rising.
His remarks coincided with almost a week of Iranian street protests that initially focused on economic hardships but have turned overtly political – though he did not comment directly on that unrest.
“Just glance at the scale of Iranian investment in order to achieve regional hegemony – it adds up to giving [Lebanese militia] Hezbollah between $700 million and $1 billion each year,” he said.
“In recent months, investment in the Palestinian arena has also been growing out of a desire to influence it – with an increase in the [annual] funding in the Gaza Strip for [terror groups] Hamas and Islamic Jihad to $100 million.”
Iran is a Middle East big power deeply involved in conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and supportive of Houthi forces in Yemen’s war, as part of a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia. Many Iranians, however, resent the foreign interventions and want their leaders to create more jobs at home, where youth unemployment reached 29 percent last year.
In mid-2017, Israeli defense officials assessed Iran was spending $800 million annually on Hezbollah, and $70 million on Hamas – Gaza’s dominant faction – and the smaller Islamic Jihad.
Both Palestinian groups acknowledged Iranian backing last month, which suggested Tehran is reorienting its regional efforts as the Syrian civil war winds down in favor of President Bashar al-Assad, whom it reinforced.
Islamic Jihad said that Qassem Soleimani, a senior Iranian general, spoke to its leadership to “stress Iran’s support for the Palestinian resistance.” Hamas said it received a pledge from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that Tehran would “spare no effort in supporting the Palestinian people.”
Since President Donald Trump announced his recognition of Yerushalayim as the Israeli capital on Dec. 6, there have been almost nightly terror rocket and mortar bomb attacks from Gaza on Israel, which has responded with air strikes.
Israel says Hamas bears overall responsibility although the launches were carried out by rival Islamist factions, and it accuses Iran of arming these groups as well.
Citing this alleged Iranian involvement, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday that avoiding escalation in Gaza was in order.
“The Israeli interest is that the international community’s attention be entirely on Iran, and not to launch an all-out campaign in Gaza which would distract attention from Iran,” Liberman told Army Radio.