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Naftali Bennett
Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ministers debated evacuating Gaza border towns
Minutes from the Security Cabinet show Bennett proposed evacuations and Ya'alon said he would look into it; no evacuations took place, but the IDF has decided to act differently come the next clash.

Minutes from a Security Cabinet meeting just before Operation Protective Edge obtained by Yedioth Ahronoth reveal discussions on evacuating civilian towns along the border with Gaza in case of concrete intelligence on Hamas's planning to carry out attacks there.

 

 

The recently released State Comptroller's report on the operation, in addition to declaring that ministers were insufficiently informed on the threat posed by Hamas tunnels, also raised the matter of such evacuations.

 

In the meeting on July 2, 2014, Minister Naftali Bennett proposed evacuating towns based on intelligence of a possible attack emanating from the tunnels. Then-Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon replied, "We'll know what to do." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported Bennett's proposal and instructed Ya'alon and the IDF chief of staff to consider it.

 

Hamas militant in tunnel (Photo: Reuters)
Hamas militant in tunnel (Photo: Reuters)

 

Ya'alon replied that they would do so.

 

Bennett added, "The price of an evacuation carried out unnecessarily exists, but it's acceptable. So I would do it. Worst case, we'll be proven wrong." Ya'alon replied, "It may be."

 

In the end, no preventive evacuations were carried out, and Hamas did not carry out targeted attacks at Israeli towns on the Gazan border to open the conflict as had been feared.

 

On July 10, two days after the operation began, the GOC Southern Command Sami Turgeman came to the Security Cabinet and brought up the threats posed by Hamas tunnels. "There's a strategic threat that could be activated against us at any moment," he said. "There's at least nine tunnels entering our territory.

 

A Security Cabinet meeting at IDF headquarters during Protective Edge (Photo: Yaron Brener)
A Security Cabinet meeting at IDF headquarters during Protective Edge (Photo: Yaron Brener)

 

Ya'alon replied to him, "I'm considering the tunnel threat as an unsolved problem that we won't solve in this incident either."

 

A few days later, 13 terrorists infiltrated Israel via a tunnel that exited outside the Sufa kibbutz. They were identified and killed before they could carry out any attacks. This incident forced the Security Cabinet to authorize the ground operation against the tunnels.

 

The IDF has decided based on the lessons drawn from this operation that in the next conflict, be it along the Lebanese or Gazan borders, civilian populations will be evacuated. This is intended to minimize casualties caused by short-range rockets and tunnels.

 

In military assessments following Protective Edge, it was agreed that leaving civilians in their home had been a mistake.

 

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