The IDF chief of staff first responds to soldiers' testimonies
on fighting in the Gaza Strip that have caused a media storm in Israel and the world. "I don't believe that IDF soldiers cold-bloodedly targeted Palestinian civilians. We will wait for the results of the investigation, but my impression is that the IDF behaved in a moral and ethical manner. If there were any incidents, there were isolated," said Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
The chief of staff visited the IDF's recruitment base in Tel Hashomer on Monday to speak with youths enlisting to the Engineering Corps. He mentioned to them that not-so-simple challenges await them upon completion of their training. "After sixty years, the State of Israel still
needs to defend itself and now it is on your watch," said the chief of staff to the young recruits.
Ashkenazi responded to reports of questionable commands allegedly issued to soldiers during Operation Cast Lead
and reports of instructions to target innocent civilians.
"Within the framework of military culture, we performed a deep and through process of operations in Gaza in order to inspect all the various aspects," said the chief of staff.
"We have opened an investigation into the statements published recently. I can say that the IDF is the most moral military in the world with high values. We must remember what region we were operating in - in a place in which Hamas turned residential neighborhoods into fighting zones and public facilities into warehouses for storing ammunition."
Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi further mentioned that despite the complex fighting arena, the IDF took every possible precaution in order to prevent bringing harm to innocent people. "We distributed leaflets prior to the operation, warned the citizens using the media, telephoned more than 200,000 households, and used the technique of firing warning shots in order to avoid harming civilians. It can definitely be said that we did everything imaginable in order to avoid harming civilians who were not involved in the fighting."
On the issue of morality, the chief of staff added, "I have known the IDF for many years. I accompanied the preparations for this operation. I was also in the field and I saw a moral and ethical army operating properly, according to my impressions."
In regards to the operation's achievements, the Ashkenazi said that the country should be proud of the soldiers who fought in Gaza.
"It is a great privilege to stand at the head of this army. We received a mission and fulfilled it. I believe we gained deterrent power vis-à-vis Hamas, and we can see that there has not been any shooting from the Gaza Strip recently. I hope that it will stay this way. But if it doesn't, we will not hesitate to take action," Ashkenazi explained.
The chief of staff declined to give his stance on releasing Palestinian prisoners, but emphasized, "As Gilad (Shalit's) commander, I see it as my duty to take action to bring him home. The efforts to do so are continuing and I don't want to go into any more detail than that. It is clear that as long as Gilad is in captivity, our mission is not over."