A Gathering Storm

Three angles on the turbulent first week of Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi as IDF Chief of Staff. Amir Rapaport's weekly column

IDF Chief, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi (Photo: AP)

HaQuirya, Tel-Aviv: The first full week of Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi as IDF Chief of Staff was reminiscent of the last week of Gadi Eizenkot in that office. An incident chasing an incident in the north, in the Gaza Strip and in the Judea and Samaria as well.

Kochavi stepped into the "pit" (the underground operations center) under the General Staff building in Tel-Aviv quite naturally. After all, he was there many times in the context of his previous positions.

Although the events of the last week appear to be "routine," they have pushed the IDF closer to the next major confrontation, which is very likely to take place during Kochavi's term in office.

The escalation could have taken place this week opposite the Gaza Strip in the south, where an IDF paratrooper officer was nearly killed in a premeditated sniper attack by Islamic Jihad.

As the sniper's bullet hit the officer's helmet rather than his head, the IDF settled for an immediate retaliatory tank fire on a Hamas post. Hours later, the IAF conducted a mild attack with no casualties on the other side.

The situation remains very tense, however. The real explosive potential regarding the Gaza Strip has to do with the Prime Minister's decisions regarding the money transfers from Qatar to Gaza.

Tehran: As far as Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and, among other things, the general in charge of the Iranian forces in Syria is concerned, Kochavi's first week as Chief of Staff was anything but routine. The week started out with an attack on ammunition warehouses which was attributed to Israel, continued with an Iranian attempt to launch a massive surface-to-surface missile at Mount Hermon (the Iron Dome system intercepted that missile) and ended with a massive Israeli attack against Iranian facilities in the area of Damascus international airport.

This was the third time in history where Israel and Iran found themselves engaged in an overt, direct military confrontation, in the context of which Iran staged a direct attack against Israeli territory. All three events occurred in the last year. Israel assumed responsibility for the massive strike that followed the missile attack. Military sources boasted to the media that the Iranians had fallen into a "trap."

This will not last, however. History has shown that the Iranians always have their revenge. For example, in the years 2005-2006, Hezbollah was determined to abduct Israeli troopers. The IDF managed, by subterfuge, to prevent three abduction attempts, but the fourth attempt, on July 12, 2006, succeeded and led to the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. If history tends to repeat itself (and even if it does not), it will be reasonable to assume that the dynamics of the current events, which started out during the days of Eizenkot as Chief of Staff, would snowball into a substantial confrontation during Kochavi's term.

Meanwhile, in Or-Yehuda, former Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, speaking at the election campaign HQ of his party “Israel Beitenu” has given credit to the new Chief of Staff he had appointed. "I have full confidence in Kochavi," Lieberman told Israel Defense. At the same time, he aggressively attacked the government in connection with the recent events in the north. "One thing I cannot accept is the fact that Israel abandoned the policy of ambiguity regarding the attacks in Syrian territory, without conducting any discussion about it," said Lieberman. "This is a serious mistake and I cannot rule out the possibility that we are boasting for considerations associated with the elections (of the Prime Minister, who currently also serves as Minister of Defense). The situation is highly volatile, and we are chattering ourselves to death. We need to do more, and boast less."

In the context of the explosive situation in the south, Lieberman stated that the transfer of Qatari funds to the Gaza Strip should be prevented, and that the targeted killing policy should be renewed immediately. "The next operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable and it is inconceivable that Israel waits for the next incident involving Israeli deaths to execute that operation. For example, the IDF knows exactly who gave the order to fire at the paratrooper officer. The fact that he was lucky and the bullet hit his helmet should not prevent the elimination of the person who had issued that order, before the next attack, in which Israeli soldiers will be killed."

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