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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Top IDF reserve officer: Israel passed up 'historic opportunity' in Gaza

Last update - 10:20 28/01/2009       
Top IDF reserve officer: Israel passed up 'historic opportunity' in Gaza
By Amos Harel
A high-ranking officer who served in a key role in the Israel Defense Forces' Southern Command during the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip has said that Israel missed an opportunity to defeat Hamas.
Brig. Gen. Zvi Fogel, who served as Southern Command artillery commander during the Gaza campaign told Haaretz Tuesday that he thought Israel had "lost a historic opportunity to defeat Hamas" when it decided not to broaden the offensive in the Gaza Strip. He also noted that a forceful response is essential in reaction to Tuesday's killing of an IDF tracker, explaining that absent such a response, the IDF will lose the deterrence factor that it established in the Cast Lead military campaign.
Fogel added that, "between the second weekend of the operation on January 10 and the inauguration of U.S. President Obama on the 20th, we had enough military personnel to broaden the offensive and to make additional significant gains. We were close to defeating Hamas."
Fogel said that Hamas had built a defensive network that employed tons of explosives, but in many places, Hamas was surprised at the direction from which the IDF approached. At the same time, Hamas didn't manage to inflict the kind of losses among Israeli forces that it had hoped. "This created tremendous frustration among Hamas," he said, "and that was when we should have expanded our operation. We were on the move and they were at the breaking point."
Fogel also said he regretted that Israel had not more forcefully hit the tunnels that Hamas has used to smuggle weapons from Egypt to Gaza. He estimates that a quarter to 50 percent of the tunnels were hit, but said that if the IDF had caused greater damage, Hamas' weapons program could have been set back by years instead of months.
Fogel's views are shared by other senior officers in the Southern Command and also among the commanders who fought on the ground in Gaza.
Unlike the others, however, he is a reserve soldier, and is therefore allowed to express his personal opinions. On the other hand, many on the IDF General Staff disagree with Fogel's point of view. The opposition of both the defense minister and the IDF chief of staff to an expansion of the military campaign influenced the cabinet in its decision to halt the operation.
Brig. Gen. Fogel returned to active service with the Southern Command a year and a half ago, in order to help develop the IDF's plan of attack in Gaza, along with GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant and the commander at the time of the IDF Gaza Division, Brig. Gen. Moshe Tamir.
Fogel noted that the work of the top brass in the Southern Command during the fighting was "exemplary."

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