TEL AVIV — In an indirect nod to Egypt’s military-run government, Israel’s top uniformed officer credited “elements” for a “surprising” decline in Sinai-based terror and for choking off the underground tunnels used to smuggle advanced weaponry into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Speaking here Tuesday at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Lt. Gen. Beni Gantz, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff, said Egyptian efforts to control terror in Sinai and along its border with Gaza is one of the few positive developments to emerge from the dramatic strategic change sweeping the region.
“Sinai, a lawless area that has become a bastion for terror, is being dealt with by elements that we did not necessarily expect just two years ago or less as having a genuine interest in operating there,” Gantz said.
“Surprisingly, the terror that has sprouted there is being challenged every day,” he added, in veiled admiration of Cairo’s unprecedented clampdown on Muslim Brotherhood militants and jihadist groups operating in the vast desert peninsula beyond Israel’s southwestern border.
Egyptian efforts to control weapons smuggling into Gaza has forced Hamas to embark on creative ways to develop indigenous weapons, Gantz said.
“Gaza, which got its oxygen from the terror tunnels through Sinai, is dealing with doors now closed to it,” he said.
In a comprehensive address of strategic trends and scenarios influencing IDF modernization plans, Gantz said the IDF is building capabilities to decisively handle a full spectrum of threats on multiple fronts.
Future scenarios could include a direct missile strike on Israeli defense headquarters here, a mega-cyberattack that paralyzes critical infrastructure, rocket salvos and infiltration attempts along all of Israel’s borders, “or a combination of all of the above,” Gantz said.
Such scenarios “are not imaginary,” he said, as terror organizations and “sub-state actors” equip themselves with increasingly precise, lethal and long-range strike systems.
The military’s latest five-year plan, dubbed Teuza (Valor), will impact the IDF through 2025 and is based on enhanced intelligence, precision strike, maneuvering capability and a robust “envelope” for defending against the threat of missile and cyber attack.
According to Gantz, IDF plans require forces to operate with maximum force to ensure that future wars deliver decisive results in the shortest possible time.
“As soon as war breaks out, the hourglass is overturned. Wars have to be as short as possible, and therefore each commander understands he must activate ultimate force,” Gantz said.
The IDF chief said the military has taken unprecedented steps to rid itself of inefficiency and waste, but that nearly $1 billion in budget cuts through 2014 have forced it to accelerate efforts to downsize its force.
“Budget cuts require us to take risks that I hoped we wouldn’t have to take,” he said.
He insisted the latest multiyear plan prescribes “responsible” downsizing without “hysterics.” He warned, however, that it leaves “no margin for error.”