"Our achievements in Gaza have restored the Israeli people's faith in the army," the commander of the 401st Brigade of the Armor Corps told Ynet Thursday.
Colonel Yigal Slovik could not provide a clear answer as to whether Operation Cast Lead
finally brought security to the residents of south Israel, but he did say that his brigade was prepared to reenter Gaza immediately if needed.
The 401st Brigade rolled into Gaza through the Netzarin corridor and didn’t stop until it reached the coast, effectively dissecting the Hamas-controlled territory into a northern and southern bloc.
The brigade's units also conducted numerous raids targeting Hamas
gunmen and infrastructure.
Slovik brushed aside claims that the army had overestimated Hamas' might, saying, "I suggest that even now we do not dismiss Hamas, because an enemy is an enemy, and it too will draw lessons from the conflict and will be stronger in the next round (of fighting)."
The colonel said the relatively low number of IDF casualties created a false perception of Hamas' capabilities. "We were simply ready; the training for the operation began two years ago. We came in with strong and determined soldiers who knew what they had to do," he said.
Colonel Slovik mentioned the presence of the commanders on the field as another reason for the offensive's successes: "When the soldiers see the battalion or brigade commander next to them it gives them a sense of security."
He said any moral dilemmas he may have had disappeared once he encountered the first booby-trapped house. "When you see one house that is laden with explosives, and then the one next to is also booby-trapped or serves as a weapons cache - then there is no dilemma," Slovik said.
"As a father, looking into the house and seeing a photo of children – then clearly it touches the heart - but if there is a possibility that my soldiers will get hurt as a result of an explosion from inside that house, then I'd rather feel bad over the photo than bury five of my soldiers. We did not destroy homes; we acted against terror infrastructure."
Hamas will draw lessons. Destruction in Gaza (Photo: AFP)
Thirty-three of the 401st Brigade's soldiers were lightly wounded during the fighting. "One of our challenges as commanders was to see to it that the soldiers remain alert," Slovik said.
According to him, his soldiers did not commit any acts of vandalism while in Gaza. "We left everything as organized as possible. There was no such thing as destroying property for no reason. On the contrary, some soldiers tended to hungry pets that were left tied up in the backyards.
Addressing the harsh criticism cast by the international community on the IDF's conduct, Slovik said "I have no qualms about the manner in which I operated. At worst I'll be denied entry to a few European countries. My subordinates and I have chosen this profession out of faith in the righteousness of our path; we sacrifice much more than a trip to London."