Kadima party chairman Shaul Mofaz said on Monday that Islamic State terrorists were active throughout the region and looking to move into Jordan, Gaza and Lebanon.
“But their goal is Jerusalem, just like Hamas. Islamic State and Hamas are one, let us make no mistake. They are from the same ‘village’ and they are branches of the same tree,” Mofaz told participants at the annual conference of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya.
“The Islamic State beheads its victims and Hamas operates with the same cruelty,” he continued. “True, this is not photographed.
But anyone who heard the recording of the murder of the Israeli teenagers kidnapped three months ago, and the laughter of the Hamas men who shot them, understands that Hamas is no less barbaric than Islamic State,” he said. “Hamas is much more advanced. It uses rockets and attack tunnels. Islamic State isn’t there yet but it is seeking to get there.”
Hamas employs terrorism as part of its strategy to head a Palestinian state in place of Fatah and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the former defense minister argued.
“Hamas is parked on our border,” he explained. “Two months ago I turned to the prime minister in [a session of] the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and proposed that we demand the disarmament of Gaza in exchange for its rehabilitation. Disarmament is a must. We cannot negotiate with the Palestinians on one channel while allowing Hamas to dominate the lives of millions of Israelis on the second channel.”
He called for a demilitarized Palestinian state, with no army, missiles or armored vehicles that can threaten Israel.
“Hamas is stronger and bigger than Islamic State... [which] has about 15,000 members. Hamas is made up of 25,000 members. It can continue to function despite the very severe blow it absorbed,” said Mofaz, also an ex-IDF chief of staff.
In exchange for disarmament, he said, Gaza could receive $50 billion over five years for reconstruction, a move that would “disconnect Hamas from [Gaza’s] civilians and give the Palestinian Authority an opportunity to move into Gaza together with reconstruction.”
But if there is no arrangement that includes disarmament, Israel would have no choice but to disarm Gaza by force.
“Before we send in the army and our sons, we must try it through an arrangement,” he said. “If the world unites around this issue and Israel works to unite the world around this, it can be achieved. If not, this will be done by force.”
Mofaz added that Israel must convert the achievements of Operation Protective Edge into a series of diplomatic arrangements that include a long-term agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
“It’s true that we are a power and can deal with our neighbors. But we need a long-term arrangement with the Palestinians. There is no other option. This is the safeguard for Israel’s future,” he explained.
Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), addressed the conference earlier, arguing that the biggest threat to Israel’s welfare was still Iran despite the brutality and growing scope of threats like Islamic State.
“Iran succeeded in the past, and is now succeeding, in building land bridges to Middle East states. It is strengthening extremists and its proxies are in the Golan Heights,” Peri said.
“Despite the media quiet that has reigned here, especially from the chief spokesman [a reference to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu], our motto must remain stopping Iran’s expansion into Syria and Lebanon, and stopping its nuclear program,” he stated.
A new Middle East is rapidly taking shape, he noted, pointing out a clear division between two camps – a radical Islamic camp versus moderate regional countries.
“There is a clear and very disturbing rise of terror organizations, both Shi’ite and Sunni,” he said.
Peri added that Israel must “change its defense perceptions” to fit the era. “The struggle will mostly be asymmetrical,” he explained. “Threats and opportunities have to be differentiated.”
Defensive components like Iron Dome air defenses must be strengthened, and money must be invested in intelligence and the creation of data banks of enemy targets, he said. The “threat of classic, all-out war hasn’t fully passed.”
Peri said a new regional coalition was emerging and that it was made up of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the PA and Israel. He cited close military and diplomatic cooperation with Egypt and the refusal of many Middle Eastern states to endorse Hamas’s demands.
Recent calls by the Saudi foreign minister for peace with Israel can’t be ignored in Jerusalem, he warned.
He also called for a regional conference with moderate Middle Eastern states and for the launching of a “general, regional maneuver that will include a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the rebuilding of a system of ties and forces in the area.”
“This should start as soon as possible,” he said.