IDF Head: Risking Men for Shalit

Freeing terrorists is not the only way to return Gilad Shalit, IDF Chief Ashkenazi hints: “We sent him there, we’re obligated to bring him back.”

Hillel Fendel and Haggai Huberman, | updated: 10:09

Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi
Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Freeing terrorists is not the only way to bring Gilad Shalit back home, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi hints. Speaking to Israel Arts and Science Academy high school students in Jerusalem on Sunday, Ashkenazi said, “We are putting men at risk in order to bring him back… We sent him there, we’re obligated to bring him back.”

Ashkenazi’s four-year term as Chief of Staff will end this February, and he will be replaced by Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant. Ashkenazi has earned high praise for his performance in upgrading the army in many areas, especially in light of its less-than-sterling job in the Second Lebanon War several months before he became Chief of Staff.

“As long as Gilad Shalit is still in captivity,” Ashkenazi told the students, “the mission has not been completed. The IDF will make every effort to bring him home… We are risking men for this purpose; [we are] not revealing everything.”

Regarding the military tensions, Hamas rockets and Israeli retaliations of the past week in Gaza, the Chief of Staff said, “We will not allow a situation in which they fire at our citizens and towns from ‘safe havens’ amidst [their] civilians. We've not lost our right to self-defense. [But] in the next war as well, we will do everything to reduce hitting civilians. In comparison with other countries and armies, we can be proud of the ethics and morals of our soldiers.”

Ashkenazi singled out the city in which he was speaking, Jerusalem, as having special importance: “This is not just another city… It’s important that every soldier visit Jerusalem at least once.”

He further said that the army has upped the number of future soldiers that it has allowed to postpone military service, but implied that the quota of such soldiers is close to the maximum. In addition, he said, though the army is not against a year of national service, “we will reconsider the issue next year.” Ashkenazi added that more than 90% of areas of service in the army are now open to women.