Friday, June 30, 2006


An Interview With the IAF Commander

With a tip o' the hat to Powerline, this marvelous Jerusalem Post interview with the current commander of the Israeli Air Force, Major-General Eliezer Shkedy.

Naturally, a large part of the interview covers current IAF (and IDF) operations in the Gaza Strip. It was there, in a discussion of some of the technological wizardry the IAF uses, that a particular comment caught John Hinderaker's attention:
Every three months we try to develop an additional capability. The [terrorists] are behaving in a certain way? How do we need to grapple with that? But I can't go into details. This war is so complex. They are always trying to figure out what we're doing; they adapt to it. I would love to be able to tell the people of Israel what we are doing new to protect them. They'd be proud to hear it. But the moment I make something public, the other side will adapt. So telling the public actually harms my efforts to protect the public.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Bill Keller.

But what I found much more important was General Shkedy's insistence on the highest of ethical standards for himself and the troops under his command:
You say that they "cloak" themselves in civilians. What do you mean?

You see their cynicism in that they put their laboratories in a building where every other apartment is full of civilians. They choose not to place the laboratory [away from civilians]. They "cloak" themselves in the most appalling sense of the word - to protect themselves because they know we act with the highest morality. They surround themselves with women and children.

The terrorists are capable of putting their own children in the car when they set off to fire a Kassam at the State of Israel. They can take their own children to terror training bases. Cynicism is firing missiles from the yard of a house, a meter from the house, where it's obvious that if we hit back, we hit the house.

We are always grappling with these dilemmas. All the time. Understand? I am very proud that we are moral people. This just underlines how complicated all of this is.

If they are making themselves ever harder to hit, the chances of hitting only them...

Are becoming ever more complicated.

So, are we relaxing our limitations in determining when to fire? When we see his son in the car with him, that's it, we don't fire? Or do we say, "His son's always with him." And he's firing at us every day.

The question is very appropriate and no, we're not relaxing our limitations.

Instead, we're improving our accuracy?

Our answer is to create a situation where you hit within a meter, a meter and a half. If we know that [the terrorist] is holding his son's hand, we do not fire. Even if the terrorist is in the midst of firing a Kassam, and the Kassam is aimed to kill. We do not fire. You should know that. And that's a fearsome thing.

So we open the door to him to keep firing at us?

Yes. And that is the kind of dilemma we live with every day and I'm very pleased you asked me about it.

I'm very proud of what we do. I think it is unprecedented. I'm proud of our morals. I'm proud of our operational capabilities.

Maybe in the end we'll kill more people because we weren't ruthless enough at the start, because we encouraged them to become bolder? Maybe we're too moral, for our own good and theirs?

That's a very interesting philosophical question, with practical consequences. And yet I'll tell you something...

(Shkedy pauses here for a full 20 seconds.) Ultimately our strength is not solely our military power. That's part of our strength. The strength of the Jewish people in the State of Israel and the Land of Israel is first and foremost our profound moral strength. Everything stems from that.

If we were to lower our standards, not to find a solution that meets the highest ethical standards, that would be a mistake with far more, immense significance for us as a nation and a state and as people than the operational error.

That's the great strength that I believe in. That's how I educate the people [in the IAF], and that's what the air force does. And, still, I'm aware that this is war, with live fire, and things will happen that I don't want to happen. Because to protect your child and my child, that can happen.

Please remember that he is not speaking in a theoretical sense here. Terrorists have been firing Kassam rockets into Israel, aiming at Israeli towns and schools; dozens of rockets per day, sometimes hundreds over a single weekend. Each Kassam rocket could kill dozens of people, if it hit the right target; it is sheer luck that the Israeli death toll has not been much, much higher than it is.

And with Israeli towns under the daily threat of rocket attacks from the sky, one of the primary concerns of the Israeli military is -- restraint. Having an important terrorist in your gunsights, and still refraining from shooting him -- even though he may be about to launch a rocket attack that could kill dozens -- because he's holding his son's hand.

This is how much Israel values human life, where it matters the most. This is the burden Israelis have taken upon themselves, even when fighting those who send their own young children out to be suicide bombers. In a very real sense, Israel values the lives of Palestinian children more than the Palestinians themselves do.


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