Israeli leftwingers astonished and outraged by new commander's blunt comments The Israeli chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Moshe Yaalon, is urging a decisive victory to exterminate the "cancer-like" Palestinian race. Israeli leftwingers criticised his blunt assessment of the danger, saying he had overstepped the mark separating the military from the politicians.
Gen Yaalon had been under the impression that he was making a private speech on Sunday to a conference of rabbis in Jerusalem. Journalists had been barred but an Israeli daily, Yediot Aharanot, obtained a tape of the speech, which it published yesterday.
His comments come as the defence minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, tries to keep alive a fragile ceasefire agreement with the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority tries to persuade militant factions to reduce their attacks.
Gen Yaalon's speech marks a significant change of tack from his predecessors. The previous tendency was to belittle the threat from the Palestinians and stress that the real danger was from the surrounding Arab countries. But Gen Yaalon said the prime risk was from the Palestinians rather than from Iraq, Iran and Syria.
He said Israel had become vulnerable because of its pull-out from Lebanon in May 2000. He said the withdrawal had convinced Palestinians that Israel was weak and that it could not stomach a high casualty rate.
He added: "The current Palestinian leadership is not prepared to recognise Israel's right to exist as an independent Jewish state.
"It is imperative that we win this conflict in such a way that the Palestinian side will burn into its consciousness that there is no chance of achieving goals by means of terror.
"If we don't do that, we will find ourselves on a very slippery slope that will damage our deterrence and our relations with the Arab countries and the Israeli Arabs.
"The Palestinian cancer-like rce attributes that have to be severed and fought to the bitter end."
Among the critics of the speech was Ran Cohen, a member of the knesset and of the leftwing party Meretz, who described Gen Yaalon's remarks as "outrageous and astonishing" and warned military men against making political statements.
Yossi Beilin, a former minister in the Labour government which ordered the withdrawal from Lebanon, echoed the criticism.
In the section of his speech dealing with Iraq, Gen Yaalon played down the threat from Baghdad. He predicted that the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, would try to fire missiles at Israeli if he felt threatened by the US.
But he said he did not believe Iraq had a nuclear missile capability.
He added: "The Iraqi threat does not keep me awake at night. We are fully capable of defending ourselves from it and it does not constitute an existential threat to Israel."
The row over Gen Yaalon's speech came as the supreme court opened a hearing yesterday into an Israeli army plan to begin expelling the relatives of alleged Palestinians militants.
Domestic human rights groups are challenging the policy, arguing that such collective punishment is an abuse of basic human rights.
In his opening statement, the state prosecutor Shai Nitzan insisted that expulsion would not violate international law.