Avital Leibovich became director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jerusalem office after leaving the Israel Defense Forces in April following a nearly 23-year career. Leibovich served in a wide range of senior media and public relations positions within the IDF, including as the face of the IDF for the international community during two prior wars with Hamas in 2008 and 2012. She spoke to The Jewish Week Tuesday morning about the latest Gaza conflict.
Q: There are those who say a cease-fire with Hamas would simply allow it time to reload. Do you agree?
A:Until Tuesday evening, Israel had intercepted close to 40 percent of Hamas’ rockets and had attacked 1,500 Hamas targets, which gives Israel some level of achievement. The question now is, what is Israel’s goal? If it is to tackle all of Hamas’ military infrastructure, there is no other way than boots on the ground.
With Israel shooting down most of the Hamas rockets headed for populated Israeli communities, and Palestinian civilians getting caught in Israeli attacks on Hamas military targets, this doesn’t seem like a traditional war.
I believe the age of traditional war is mostly gone, and I don’t think Hamas is a guerrilla organization that some people would like to think it is with a political wing.
In the last decade, while Israel invested in shelters and a variety of defense measures such as Iron Dome, Hamas invested in three types of systems: a manufacturing system so it can make its own rockets instead of having to smuggle them in; a system to test their newly developed rockets by firing them to see their effectiveness; and the training of professional people who understand and know how to fire the rockets and other forms of ammunition.
What will be the result of Israel accepting and Hamas rejecting the Egyptian-proposed cease-fire?
The world today understands that we showed restraint for six hours to respect the cease-fire, during which Hamas fired 50 rockets. It could have fired only to the outskirts of Gaza, but it chose to fire all the way to Haifa and the central part of Israel. So it was not interested in a cease-fire. I believe the Western world understands that Israel has a legitimate right to defend self. I don’t think Hamas is gaining sympathy in the Arab street or in the Western world.
In addition to rockets, Hamas is also carrying out psychological warfare on the Israeli public.
We have not seen it before to this extent. It is sending millions of [text] messages to Israeli civilians pretending to be from Israeli newspapers or Israeli security services. One message said Hamas has sent a suicide bomber who is seeking to infiltrate a shelter, so beware of whom you open the shelter to. Millions of Israelis got it. It is also sending other messages saying it will win.
In an average day, it makes tens of thousands of attempts to hack into Israeli websites — now it’s 10 times more often. And last night for about four or five sends it managed to put a threatening message in Hebrew on Channel 10. That is an open-source channel; it’s not too difficult to do that.
In addition, Hamas tried to fly a drone towards Ashdod from Gaza. It was shot down within seconds, but Hamas, instead of admitting failure, showed pictures of the wings of a drone as if it were armed with what it said was the Tel Aviv skyline in the background. We know it was not Tel Aviv — it was probably Gaza — because nothing of that sort took place. So it is trying to turn failure into a success.
You live near Tel Aviv and work in Jerusalem, areas that have not experienced rocket attacks in the past. What has that been like?
The [air raid] sirens are heard very well in my house, and I can hear the Iron Dome interceptions. Every morning when I leave for work, I give my children [14, 10 and 8] a briefing — almost a military-style briefing. I tell them they can’t put on the TV or earphones too loudly because I want them to hear the sirens. We have a shelter in the house, and I have left the door open and unlocked. And I will never leave them unless I know there is an older person in the area so that they will be taken care of should something happen.