Rocket fire on southern communities will be stopped, IDF officer vows

Citing the destruction of Hamas’ tunnels, the leader of Israel’s Southern Command has said that rocket fire will too be overcome in time. 

By World Israel News Staff

Israel’s southern communities will in time no longer have to face rockets fired from Gaza, the leader of Israel’s Southern Command has pledged, pointing out that similar grave threats such as Hamas’ tunnels have already been overcome.

Southern towns, particularly Ashdod and Ashkelon currently live with regular rocket attacks, taking the brunt of barrages fired whenever a skirmish flairs up between the terrorist organizations in the Gaza strip and Israel.

In May, Israelis were again sent running for shelter when Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched some 4,300 rockets in under two weeks at Israel, with some reaching as far as Jerusalem.

In response, the IDF launched Operation Guardian of the Walls, striking over 1,500 terror targets such as launch sites, command and control centers, and weapons storage sites. Included among the targets was many kilometers of Hamas’ extensive tunnel system, which were used by the terror organization to enable military training, mobility, storage of weaponry, and the capacity to carry out and manage military operations without exposing their operatives.

Reflecting on the situation in an interview with Israel Hayom, Major-General Eliezer Toledano, Commander of the IDF’s Southern Command, said that the operation had been a success, with every one of the threats met and neutralized except the rocket attacks – and that they would be resolved in time too.

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“It’s an issue of time, but we will find a solution for the rockets problem,” Toledano said. “Hamas failed in all its attack efforts during Operation Guardian of the Walls – other than on the issue of the rockets. They were stopped thanks to the very good work of the Gaza Division. What do they have left? The rockets, which are also limited in efficacy. Not that I think it’s logical to fire 4,300 rockets at a country, but that’s the only tool they have left.”

Likening military strategy to a race, Toledano continued: “So they learn, and we learn. The finish line for Guardian of the Walls is the start line for the competition between us to reach a strategic advantage, and I’m running with all my might, and also looking at him all the time, to see where he is up to.”

Toledano acknowledged the scale of the challenge, but countered that past victories gave confidence that the rockets, too, could be overcome.

“Look at the tunnels. They are an issue that was complicated in Vietnam, and it was complicated in Korea, and we succeeding in overcoming it. It took us time, but we succeeded. So I’m saying the same thing about the rockets. We need to get there and to find a solution for it. If we don’t believe that that’s a realistic goal, we’ll never get there. It won’t be over within the next year, but that’s the goal.”

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Looking at the situation in Gaza more generally, Toledano expressed support for a strategy which supported the two million Gaza residents to improve their lives, arguing that such a strategy would undermine Hamas’ leadership in the strip.

“I support an improvement in the situation for civilians in Gaza,” he said. “First, because this is the greatest threat to Hamas. Second, because we are sitting on shared resources. And third, because I’m looking a decade into the future and asking myself where this is heading. If things are worse in Gaza – that doesn’t help me. So the two pillars of our strategy in dealing with Gaza are a high level of security, and improving living conditions for civilians.”

However, he recognized that there is a balancing act to be carried out between these two pillars, saying “We are always needing to balance things. To eliminate Hamas’ military abilities, but not in a way that deteriorates the civilian aspects. Whoever wants a clear answer is liable to be disappointed, because there isn’t any such thing in Gaza. We need a delicate balance here.”

Questioned about the case of Border Police officer Barel Hadarya Shmueli, who was killed at the Gaza border earlier this year by Palestinian rioters, Toledano took a firm line.

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“There is a price on our existence here,” he stated. “In the future as well, soldiers will be killed and civilians will be killed.”

And on the subject of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, he was equally firm. Hamas has recently attempted to negotiate for the release of hundreds of jailed terrorists in return for the bodies of two IDF soldiers and two civilian captives, but Israel has so far shown little interest in the proposed deal.

Israel will continue “to overturn every stone,” to find a way to negotiate the return of hostages, Toledano said, but, he added: “Hamas must understand that Israel has changed its approach.”

Ultimately, Toledano called for greater resolve on the part of Isrealis in not fearing Hamas. “We need to understand that if we are not afraid, they lose. And for them to lose, we need to be less afraid. I know that’s not a simple demand, but when we understand that that’s their goal – to hurt our strength – we need to be strong and not become afraid,” he said.