Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his army chief on Sunday after his comments on the use of force against young Palestinian attackers drew rightwing fire.
Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot on Wednesday told high school seniors heading for compulsory military service that troops should not use excessive firepower in combating a wave of Palestinian violence in which many youthful assailants have died.
Hardliners, including senior members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party, responded angrily to his comments.
Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz called them “mistaken and unfortunate” and liable “to cause soldiers to hesitate to open justified fire against terrorists in future.”
“This is a meaningless debate,” Netanyahu told journalists at the start of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
“What the chief of staff said is self-evident,” he added. “Everything that was said afterwards was said either from lack of understanding or a desire to score political points. Both are unacceptable.”
Questions have been raised in the Israeli media in recent days over whether Netanyahu would publicly support Eisenkot, with the prime minister under political pressure over his government’s failure to halt the wave of violence.
Eisenkot’s remarks were in response to a question from a student about the use of deadly fire.
“When there’s a 13-year-old girl holding scissors or a knife and there is some distance between her and the soldiers, I don’t want to see a soldier open fire and empty his magazine at a girl like that, even if she is committing a very serious act,” he said.
“Rather he should use the force necessary to fulfil the objective.”
He was thought to be alluding to a November attack by two Palestinian girls aged 14 and 16, who stabbed with scissors and lightly wounded an elderly man in Jerusalem.
Police opened fire, killing the 16-year-old and seriously wounding the 14-year-old.
Jerusalem police chiefs reportedly took the remarks as a direct attack on the force and the officer who fired the fatal shots.
The justice ministry has opened an investigation on suspicion he used excessive force, continuing to shoot the girl when she no longer constituted a threat.
Since October 1, Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks have taken the lives of 27 Israelis, an American and an Eritrean, according to an AFP count.
At the same time, 176 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, most while carrying out attacks but others during clashes and demonstrations.