Monday, January 19, 2009

Ehud Barak

Address by Minister of Defense Ehud Barak 
January 17, 2009


As of 2:00 a.m. tonight, we will hold our fire in the Gaza Strip. In three weeks of fighting, we have achieved the goals we set when we launched Operation Cast Lead.


In view of the exceptional operational results and the achievement of the Israel Defense Forces' objectives, in light of the far-reaching understandings reached with the Egyptians regarding the fight against the arms smuggling, considering the humanitarian needs that are growing stronger in the Gaza Strip, and with the intention of facilitating other processes to enhance the achievements, Israel is accepting the Egyptian request to hold fire. However, we will continue to maintain the preparedness of our forces for any developments.


I can state clearly here: we have achieved our military objectives. But I do not want to mislead anyone. While we are holding our fire, there is no absolute certainty; Hamas may continue firing at our forces and at the home front. I have instructed the IDF to be ready for any such development. The army will remain deployed in Gaza according to operational considerations. If Hamas continues to fire, we will respond harshly and are prepared to continue and even expand the operation if needed. Civilians in the rear must also be prepared and cautious until we see what happens.


We did not go into battle with cries of joy or with any pretensions. Anyone who has been through a day of battle knows the compelling responsibility. I have been in more than a few wars, I have led many under my command into the field of battle, I have buried many of my comrades in arms. And I know the truth of our lives and our struggle here. We go into battle when we must. We set realistic goals and prepare meticulously, and we fight with all the power required. With determination, but also with responsibility and discretion. That is what we do. That is what we have done in Gaza.


That is just such an operation. Within its delineated scope, this is a justified elective war. There is a limit to patience. Eight years of civilians being targeted, with one single goal: to kill men, women and children; hostile actions designed to kill or kidnap soldiers.


Restraint did not help. Neither did the Disengagement, with all its harsh repercussions in our internal affairs. In the end, Hamas took control of half of the Palestinian population, in the Gaza Strip, and used them cynically, sometimes even cruelly. It turned the people into hostages, their homes into sites for launching missiles and rockets into the hearts of our cities and villages.


We prepared our army and security forces for many months. We did not overlook a single detail. When we embarked on the operation, we did what we had to do. The citizens of Israel saw the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in their full power: the Air Force with the first strike, and then the intelligence and security forces did their jobs with unparalleled professionalism and precision. After that we transitioned to a ground assault with extraordinary coordination among the infantry, armored corps, marine and air forces, special units, and all branches of the armed forces - the IDF at its best.


The IDF in conjunction with the Israel Security Agency (ISA) have dealt Hamas a harsh and painful blow. The achievements are better than we projected before embarking on the operation, and they were achieved rapidly. All IDF forces were well trained for the action, during which they showed determination and strong operational capabilities. During the fighting, IDF forces bisected the Gaza Strip, surrounded Gaza City and entered several neighborhoods in which Hamas activists were hiding. About 1,200 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of Hamas operatives and some of their senior leaders.


We are filled with appreciation for the IDF soldiers and officers at all levels, from the soldiers in the field to the OC Southern Command, Yoav Galant, and have great esteem for ISA director Yuval Diskin and his people. And to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi I will say only this: I, Lt. Gen. (Res.) Ehud Barak salute you.


We lost ten soldiers and officers in the fighting:

Warrant Officer Lutfi Nasraladin

Staff Sgt Dvir Emanuelof

Cpl. Yousef Muadi

Staff Sgt. Nitai Stern

Maj. Dagan Wartman

Capt. Yehonatan Netanel

Staff Sgt. Alexander Mashvitzky

Maj. Roi Rosner

Sgt Amit Robinson

Capt. Omer Rabinovitch


Three civilians were killed:

Beber Vaknin of Netivot

Irit Sheetrit of Ashdod

Hani al-Mahdi of Aroar


In dry military language, we can say that the operation was conducted with a relatively low casualty rate, less than we originally estimated. But there is no such thing as a relatively low toll and we do not speak of the fallen in terms of cost. Each one of them was a world onto itself. Each one of them has a family whose world has been destroyed. I share the grief of the bereaved families and from here I send them condolences from the bottom of my heart and from the depth of my understanding of the enormity of their emptiness and loss.


To the wounded, I would like to send best wishes for a speedy recovery, encouragement and an embrace.


This was an operation in which many Palestinian civilians were hurt and a lot of damage was caused to the fabric of life and the property of the residents of the Gaza Strip. We did everything possible to minimize the damage to the civilian population. We did not come to fight the Gazan people. We came to strike a crushing blow at Hamas.


If Hamas were sensitive to its own people, if it did not act with murderous cynicism and hide behind men, women and children as its human shield, much of the damage to the civilians could have been avoided.


We are not indifferent to the humanitarian damage. During the fighting, we made a quarter of a million telephone calls and distributed flyers to the residents advising them to leave the firing zones. I do not know of any army in the world that acts with the standards of the IDF. We did all we could to send supplies and aid to the Palestinian citizens. We established a special team to handle humanitarian aid and we will now do everything we can to strengthen the effort, to provide medical assistance and any other aid required to rehabilitate the residents.


This is Israel's finest hour. It was a time of trial in which our society showed itself to be ready and willing, with the ability to cope and to draw on the enormous strength within it. Israeli society rose impressively to the occasion and emerges from this trial strengthened and empowered on all fronts:


On the military front we have returned to an IDF at its finest: soldiers who know how to fight and do so courageously, out of deep conviction in the justice of this course of action, and  with great skill.


Officers of all levels who know how to give the very simple and very difficult command "Follow me!" Even after they have been wounded, they insist on retuhning to the battlefield to lead their soldiers and to set a personal example for them.


The families of the soldiers, who bit their lips and passed sleepless nights, but whose concern did not cause them for one moment to weaken the resolve of the fighters. To the contrary - they encouraged and inspired them.


And this was the Home Front's finest hour. The Home Front was prepared for this difficult test and met it with heartwarming self-assurance. The local leadership took responsibility and led the public in the southern cities and towns in an admirable manner. It was a determined Home Front, whose patience and courage constantly bolstered the IDF soldiers and us, the decision makers. Men, women and children, old and young, showed extraordinary resilience in the face of the difficulties and dangers that were an integral part of the operation, and their good spirits took us back to the good old days of steadfastness, unity, and resoluteness. These strengths will accompany us in the trials that lie ahead.


The Defense Ministry, the Home Front Command, the government ministries, all the government authorities, and the rescue services acted effectively to minimize the suffering and anxiety of the people who sustained volleys of dozens of missiles and rockets each day. The civilians gave us strength. Their resilience and high morale, the way they coped with difficulties, and their ability to function under fire took us back to the good old values, to the good and beautiful Israel that we missed so much.


IDF forces are deployed in the Gaza Strip with the aim of ensuring that the firing will not resume and in a way that will enable us to give an immediate and appropriate response if it does. We are determined to achieve all the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the fighting. And one more thing must be said, as strongly as possible: Gilad Shalit. We are doing everything possible so that we will be able to see Gilad home again. I do not have any news yet, but I promise you: this is a supreme effort. There will not be a single moment when we are not focused on him. The IDF has an unwritten pact with the parents who send their sons to war, and we will not violate it. Everything that can and should be done will be done in time so that we will see Gilad Shalit safe and sound back home.


I would like to thank you wholeheartedly, Mr. Prime Minister, Acting Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and all our partners in the country's leadership for the coordinated and successful management of this difficult operation. Ehud, you deserve our gratitude, and I am sure that I speak for many in our nation.


If anybody had any doubts, those doubts no longer exist: we will not capitulate to Hamas, we will not let it rampage. I would be glad to announce here that there will be no more war, but Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria, Iran, and fanatic and extremist elements around the world are still plotting evil. They will continue to test us, and we must be prepared. We are endeavoring to end this round and are doing everything to combine military capability with a complementary diplomatic effort. We will do so in the future as well. We will do everything possible so that every Israeli citizen will have what any citizen in the world deserves: peace and quiet.