Israeli President Isaac Herzog conducted his first defense and civilian tour of the Gaza border area.
By Erin Viner
The visit comes in the wake of ongoing hostilities with the lawless Palestinian enclave, run by the Islamist Hamas terrorist organization.
The President was accompanied by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and briefed about the security challenges around the Gaza Strip by the Head of Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano. He also inspected a position where Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system is stationed.
“In a town that has endured sirens for so many years, this is the reality into which boys and girls are born,” said the President, according to a communique obtained by TV7 from his office. “I know that this situation has impressed itself on your personalities, but I can tell you that I have come here after conducting a tour with IDF forces in the area and we have a powerful army. We have excellent commanders and soldiers, and they will rise to any mission and perform it as best as possible, and I wouldn’t advise any enemy to test us. I am thankful to the IDF and the security and emergency forces for their work here in Sderot and more widely,” he said.
President Herzog also visited the kibbutz of Kfar Aza, where he met Deputy Defense Minister Alon Schuster, Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council head Ofir Libstein, Hof Ashkelon Regional Council head Itamar Revivo, and Sdot Negev Regional Council head Tamir Idan, who provided the President with a civilian situational assessment of the area and about their preparations ahead of the Jewish High Holy Days.
The Israeli leader greeted IDF troops stationed in the area and raised a toast in tribute of the approaching Jewish New Year with them.
“I am very happy to be here. You are in a place of supreme importance to the security of the State of Israel. I am here on my first visit as the President in the field, with the IDF, and I have come to say thank you. I want to thank you, the men and women of the IDF, on the eve of Rosh HaShanah.”
“I salute you! The State of Israel and the whole nation believe in you so much, and for good reason,” he added, telling the Israeli soldiers, “You provide meaning to the defense of our home and our homeland. Day by day, hour by hour.”
President Herzog underscored that the Chief of Staff, the head of Southern Command, additional military commanders and the troops all have his full support.
Speaking of his recent condolence call to the family of the late Border Police Officer Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who died after being shot in the head at point-blank range by a Palestinian gunman on 21 August during a riot along the Gaza border, President Herzog said, “Barel died a hero. We must not allow the arguments between us, within Israeli society, around incidents like this impossibly painful and tragic event to give succor to our enemies beyond the fence.”
Thanking the soldiers for their devoted work and wishing them good health, President Herzog expressed his prayer “for you to return in peace, and we thank you for your efforts both to complete your missions and to return home in peace. May this be a year of peace and security, blessed work, and good health, for both you and your families.”
In his own statement, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Kochavi said, “The IDF is a single tapestry of many people, and the tip of the spear is you, the combat soldiers, who form a buffer between the enemy and threats and the State of Israel. You are defending your home. The experience of being combat soldier, combat commander, and combat officer is one that will stay with you for the rest of your lives, an experience of true friendship, an experience that changes you and teaches you to work under pressure. It is an experience that teaches you initiative and leadership.”
Gen. Kochavi also stressed that, “In the context of recent events, in the place we are in, it should be perfectly clear: you have the freedom of maneuver to complete your missions, to use your weapons whenever there is a threat, whenever there is a danger to citizens of the State of Israel, to its sovereignty, or to you. I want to thank you and tell you that we trust you and your judgment – and even on occasions when in hindsight it seems likely that someone’s judgement was incorrect, we and I will have your backs. Remember this, and with this spirit, complete your missions. I am proud of you and wish you a Shanah Tovah” (Happy New Year in Hebrew), he said.